Jubilant Adrian Kirby hoisted aloft the coveted Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup on behalf of his Cortium team after they narrowly beat El Remanso 10-9 in the final of the British Open Polo Championship.
The world’s most important pro-am polo tournament at 22 goal level opened a month ago and more than 40 matches were played in difficult weather conditions before Cortium and El Remanso made it through to Sunday’s final.
Spectators were thrilled to see local team Cortium involved. Adrian Kirby has been on a quest for glory for the past six years but has never previously made it to the final. His team comprised Fransisco Elizalde (six goals) at the front door, eight-goaler Polito Pieres playing his first season in English polo and Chilean Jaime Huidobro at No3 enabling the patron to play in his favoured position at back.
Equally popular were the team of the Gloucestershire-based Hanbury family, whose two sons Charlie and George were appearing in the final for the first time playing alongside Guillermo Terrera (seven goals) at No3 and the highest-handicapped player on the field, David Stirling (nine goals) at back.
Nerves were visible as the first chukka got under way although an early goal came from Jaime Huidobro. But Cortium then gave away two penalties to enable El Remanso to take a 2-1 lead, David Stirling then surprisingly missing a 30-yard free hit which could have put his team farther ahead.
In chukka two, it was El Remanso giving away the penalties enabling Cortium’s Pieres to knock two 40-yard shots through the posts to close the chukka 3-2 ahead.
During the third, defensive play showed the teams were still far from settled. Guillermo Terrera sent a 30-yard hit through for El Remanso. As the first half closed, there were three goals apiece on the scoreboard.
A good tread-in was called for and when the teams came back on, the match moved up a gear. Two penalties for Cortium were interspersed by a good field goal from George Hanbury.
When an El Remanso player dropped his stick in Cortium’s half, the players slowed down as Huidobro picked it up and handed it back. Huidobro provided unflappable back-up wherever it was needed. Stirling went on to produce a good field goal and then sent a 60-yard penalty shot through the posts to pull El Remanso ahead 6-5.
Stirling scored the first goal in the fifth chukka from a 40-yard penalty. Elizalde for Cortium soon picked up his first of the match and Pieres equalised with a free hit. Suddenly came the best shot of the match when Charlie Hanbury backhanded a fantastic shot through the posts to earn the nickname “Champagne Charlie” from the commentator and El Remanso closed the penultimate chukka 8-7 ahead.
In the sixth, David Stirling’s nifty pick-up saw another goal for El Remanso, stimulating Cortium into greater efforts. A 30-yard penalty was awarded to Cortium and Pieres tapped the ball through the posts.
Then came the match-turning goal for Cortium as Pieres snatched the ball from under the opposition’s nose to spin it through the posts and the score was level at 9-9.
El Remanso raced away to the goal but the ball was cleared. Off again went Cortium with the ball and Pieres surged forward again and the ball went in. Cortium had won the Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup final 10-9.
The Veuve Clicquot Gold Cup was presented to Kirby by Jean-Marc Lacave, president, of Veuve Clicquot. A salmanazar of champagne was presented by Jo Thornton, MD of Moët Hennessy UK Ltd.
The players received individual silver trophies and magnums of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label.
The Holman prize for most valuable player was awarded to Polito Pieres, whose stallion Rolinga, co-owned with Hernan Pieres, was named best playing pony.
The top scorer in the tournament, Facundo Sola of the Sumaya team on 46 goals, received a bespoke Veuve Clicquot yellow saddle from Elsa Corbineau, marketing director of champagnes, Moët Hennessy UK Ltd .
Kirby said: “It really hasn’t sunk in yet but it is a great day for Cortium Sports and a popular local win for our team. The players have never given up in some really close matches. We’d like to thank everyone at Cowdray Park who has had to work so hard in such difficult weather conditions. It hasn’t gone un-noticed.”