TORRENTIAL rain on Friday and Saturday forced Cowdray Park Polo Club’s newly-launched South Downs Polo Day to be switching from the world-famous Cowdray ‘Lawns’ to the club’s Ambersham complex.
Only three miles away, Ambersham’s lighter, better-draining soil enabled cars and lorries to be parked without fear of getting stuck, and the all-important Midhurst Town Cup polo match to go ahead.
For Stella Artois and Las Monjitas, two of the teams entered for this year’s Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup, the Town Cup match was a first outing on Cowdray turf and an opportune warm-up for the British Open Championship, which began two days later.
Stella Artois has been formed by two Australian patrons, Stirling McGregor and Gillon McLachlan. McLachlan is a competent four-goal amateur, while McGregor at two goals is also higher handicapped than most patrons in the Gold Cup.
Having signed up seven-goal Nico Pieres, the younger brother of Gonzalito and Facundo, both ten-goal players from the famous Pieres dynasty, and eight-goaler Alejandro Agote, Stella Artois are well-balanced.
Las Monjitas have been brought to the UK for the first time by Colombian patron Camilo Bautista, who has taken on Nachi Heguy, a nine-goal player, as his No2, Eduardo Novillo Astrada, the highest-handicapped player on the field at nine goals, at No3, and Francisco Elizalde, five goals, at back.
For those watching polo for the first time, the match was a free-flowing exhibition of quality polo with little fouling, and commentator Terry Hanlon was able to explain the rules and the moves as the six chukkas progressed.
Stella Artois received a goal on handicap at the start of the match as the players’ combined handicaps of 21 goals was one less than the opposition.
With both teams keen to get their hands on the first trophy of the British Open season, there was little evidence they were saving themselves for the Gold Cup. There was determined play and plenty of attempts at goal, maybe not reflected in the scoreline at the end of the first half which stood at 4-3 in favour of Las Monjitas.
After half-time goals came faster with Nachi Heguy scoring two excellent field goals in the fourth chukka to take his side six ahead. Gillon McLachlan popped a neatly-angled shot to goal through the posts but it was 6-4 at the end of the chukka to Las Monjitas.
Chukka five saw young Francisco Elizalde achieve two more goals for his side and again only one, from a penalty, delivered by Pieres for Stella Artois. In the final chukka Pieres scored again, briefly narrowing the gap to 8-6, but it was swiftly answered by Novillo Astrada.
In the last minute of the chukka, the highlight of the match for Las Monjitas was a fantastic goal scored by the patron, taking his team’s score on to 10-6 and a convincing victory.
Lady Cowdray presented the Midhurst Town Cup to Camilo Bautista, the patron of Las Monjitas.
Mariya Burton of Aspinal of London presented prizes of luxury leather travel goods to all the players and Vanessa Perkins presented a rug for the best pony on behalf of Bertrand Transport de Chevaux.