Thai triumph lights up polo's Gold Cup final at Cowdray

With persistent rain, looming dark clouds and even the threat of thunder and lighting, conditions were testing for the Final of the 2021 Gold Cup for the British Open Polo Championship on Sunday.

The Gold Cup winners / Picture: Mark Beaumont
The Gold Cup winners / Picture: Mark Beaumont

Unperturbed by the wet weather, enthusiastic spectators sheltering under a canopy of umbrellas along the sidelines, looked eagerly on as Harald Link’s Thai Polo NP and H.H. Sheikha Maitha’s UAE Polo Team battled it out for the prestigious title.

Leading in the early stages of the game, Thai Polo NP effectively managed their lead to never trail in the game and emerged as the champions, defeating UAE Polo Team 9-7 to raise the coveted Gold Cup.

A competitive match in the persistent showers left Thai Polo NP and UAE Polo Team battling in open play where the balanced attack of Thai Polo NP proved to be a winning factor.

The Gold Cup final / Picture: Mark Beaumont

All four players found the scoreboard along with six assists on nine field goals as Thai Polo NP scored all nine of their goals from the field.

Led by three goals and three assists from Nico Pieres, Thai Polo NP took the lead and never looked back against the solid UAE Polo Team. Holding Polito Pieres scoreless, Thai Polo NP’s defence helped guide them to victory, despite the best efforts of Tomas Panelo and Tomas Beresford who combined for all seven of their team’s goals.

Outshooting UAE Polo Team 22-5 throughout the game, Thai Polo NP overcame the rain to claim the hard-fought tournament victory.

Two minutes into the game, Thai Polo NP opened the scoring after Ned Hine left the ball for Harper and he skilfully finished the goal with a nearside neck shot.

Action from the Gold Cup final at Cowdray Park / Picture: Mark Beaumont

Heavily outshooting UAE Polo Team 7-0 in the first chukka, Thai Polo NP increased their lead to two after Nico Pieres outran Beresford and knocked the ball out of the air to end the chukka ahead 2-0.

Displaying a balanced attack, Thai Polo NP scored their third consecutive goal to begin the game, this time off the mallet of Ned Hine, as UAE Polo Team was left with the challenge of playing from behind. Rain forced a temporary break in play, however the Final went on with UAE Polo Team ending their scoreless drought on a Penalty 4 conversion for Beresford.

Finding momentum at the start of the third chukka, a pass from Polito Pieres was converted by Tomas Panelo to bring their team within one, but Thai Polo NP provided a significant response as 15-year-old Louis Hine scored to get all four Thai Polo NP players on the scoresheet and end the first half with a 5-2 advantage.

The conditions impacted the scoring throughout the game as field goals proved to be difficult to achieve, however after the halftime break, both Thai Polo NP and UAE Polo Team produced offense in open play.

Trading goals back and forth, Thai Polo NP was led by the young Hine brothers, Louis and Ned, contributing one goal each in the fourth chukka, while UAE Polo Team relied on two goals from Beresford on consecutive plays to remain trailing by three.

Making a push for the victory, Louis Hine scored on the first play of the fifth chukka, hitting a backhand through the goal off a pass from Nico Pieres. Generating a goal of his own, Pieres left Thai Polo NP with a four-goal advantage and just one chukka between them and the tournament title.

As the rain continued to fall, UAE Polo Team inched closer with a goal from Panelo, but Thai Polo NP saw the Jaeger-LeCoultre clock tick down and the trophy come within reach. A late penalty goal from Beresford ended the game as Thai Polo NP began their celebration, capturing the 9-7 victory and the Gold Cup for the British Open Championship.

Emotional scenes ensued in the Thai Polo NP team tent for the Hine, Harper and Pieres families. The young Hine brothers were embraced by proud parents, whilst James Harper and family celebrated his second Gold Cup victory, and Nico Pieres savoured the success of winning his first British Open.

The Hon Emily Pearson, daughter of Lord Cowdray, presented the golden trophy to Thai Polo NP Captain, Nico Pieres, who also stepped down from the podium to receive the Most Valuable Player prize from U.S. Polo Assn. representative, Boo Jalil of Brand Machine.

Nine-year-old Argentine mare, Open Lourdes (Virgin x Sportivo), played and owned by Nico Pieres, was awarded the Best Playing Pony rug, presented by the Hon Mrs Lila Pearson.