BRITISH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE KING POWER GOLD CUP

By Dara Williams

A FAMILY AFFAIR

Jean-Francois Decaux’s Next Generation 14-12 victory over Dillon Bacon’s Les Lions/Great Oaks in the King Power Gold Cup final was an historic match in more ways than one.  The winners included 10-goal maestro Adolfo Cambiaso and, for the first time at this level of polo, his son, Poroto, who was to set a new record in the process.

Poroto, aged fourteen, became the youngest player ever to win the tournament: a record held since 1991 by his father, who won the first of his eight British Opens, with Tramontana, at the age of sixteen.  The latest edition was also the second victory for patron Decaux (his first had been in 2009 with La Bamba de Areco) and for pivot Diego Cavanagh, whose first came with Dubai in 2014.

The final was very much a family affair. Not only did Adolfo Cambiaso have his son at his side but the opposing line-up was based around the 14-goal combination of his nephews, Bartolito and Camilo ‘Jeta’ Castagnola.  On the eve of  the match, Adolfo had expressed his pleasure at the way the tournament had developed. ‘The chance of sharing a final with my son is priceless, and I am very proud to play against my nephews.  All three of them are dedicated to polo.’

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, only eight teams contested the tournament, including Australian patron’s David Paradice’s Scone Polo, who reached the semi-finals last season and also won the 2019 Queen’s Cup at Guards.  Gold Cup holders Dubai did not return to defend their title, but there were more young British players to be seen in action than for many seasons. They included Zac Beim and Will Harper, both sons of leading professionals, who had been recruited by Andrey Borodin for Park Place Vaara.  Borodin himself played in his second team, Park Place, where he was joined by the 19-goal combination of brothers Facundo and Gonzalo Pieres, backed up ably by 3-goal Kian Hall.  Facundo was one of only three 10-goal players appearing in the tournament, the others being Hilario Ulloa, in Park Place Vaara colours, and Adolfo Cambiaso.

The Gold Cup opened the high-goal Triple Crown season, rather than coming between the Queen’s Cup and Warwickshire Cup, as in previous years; also being played, certainly for the first time in its sixty-six year history, without spectators, in line with government restrictions on movement.

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Following quarter-finals victories, both of  Borodin’s teams gained a place in the semi-finals,almost certainly another record at Cowdray.  In the match for the Ellerston Cup, Park Place Vaara met Next Generation, who dominated the first half, at the end of which they were leading 8-5.  However, the ‘next generation’ of  British polo, Beim and Harper, helped their side back into the game, in the fourth chukka reducing the difference to a single goal.  As players entered the final chukka, Park Place Vaara led 11-10.   It was due largely to the efforts of  Diego Cavanagh, replacing an injured David Stirling, that Next Generation rode out the winners, 13-11. Cavanagh had been playing earlier in the tournament for first-time contestants Polo Stud Schockemohle.  Most Valuable Player was Poroto Cambiaso and Best Playing Pony Duet, owned by Stirling and ridden by Cavanagh.

The second semi-final, played for the Tramontana Cup, was a much closer-fought encounter between Les Lions/Great Oaks and Park Place. Throughout the first half, Park Place maintained a constant, if narrow, advantage; and it was not until the final chukka that Les Lions/Great Oaks seized an opportunity to redress the balance, so gaining their place in the final by just one goal, 10-9.  Jeta Castagnola was Most Valuable Player, while Lovelocks Illusive, ridden by Gonzalo Pieres and owned by Andrey Borodin, was Best Playing Pony.

And so to the final. Next Generation had the edge on Les Lions/Great Oaks from the opening chukka although, apart from the fourth chukka, by rarely more than two goals. Adolfo Cambiaso opened the account for Next Generation, followed quickly by his son, who played a crucial role in maintaining an advantage. Santiago Laborde gave Les Lions new hope in the third chukka, and while on the half-time bell Next Generation still had a 7-5 lead, the second half an apparent change in dynamics.  Les Lions rode on the offensive, in the fourth chukka equalising 7-7 from a penalty shot and a field goal. Their luck, however, was not to hold. They gave away too many penalty shots, not least within the final four minutes of the game, enabling Next Generation to regain and maintain their lead, and thus a 14-12 victory. There was again invaluable play by Diego Cavanagh, who scored seven of Next Generation’s goals.  Most Valuable Player was Adolfo Cambiaso and Best Playing Pony was Small Axe, owned and ridden by Dillon Bacon.

Next Generation

Jean-Francois Decaux0
Poroto Cambiaso4
Diego Cavanagh8
Adolfo Cambiaso10

Les Lions/Great Oaks

Dillon Bacon2
Camilo ‘Jeta’ Castagnola7
Bartolito Castagnola7
Santiago Laborde6

Photo Credit : Mark Beaumont

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