After a four-year hiatus, the celebrated Westchester Cup challenge between the United States and England took place at the Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club in Windsor, Berkshire, England on Saturday, July 28. Julio Arellano, Peke Gonzalez, Jeff Hall and Nic Roldan representing the United States and outfitted in U.S. Polo Assn. were pitted against an English squad comprised of three members of the winning 2018 Gold Cup El Remanso Polo team (James Beim, Ollie Cudmore, James Harper) joined by Tommy Beresford. Despite considerable preparation, what promised to be a closely-contested matchup between two powerhouse teams proved a runaway as England emerged victorious with a staggering 12-6 final score.
Due to a difference in handicap, England was awarded one goal at the onset of the match. Directly out of the first bowl-in America quickly equalized the score, a well-executed pass from Gonzalez landing on the stick of Roldan. The U.S.’s prowess would be short-lived however, as England’s Cudmore scored a hat trick to take the lead 4-1. Ending the first on a strong note, Roldan put a second goal on the board. The remainder of the first half proved fatal, England dominating the competition with three more goals, holding USA scoreless. “We would come close to the goal and then we’d lose the ball and they would get it back,” said Hall. “I felt like we were okay in the first part of the chukkers, but then the horses would get a little tired at the end of every chukker and England would score a couple of goals on us.”
Trailing by five at the start of the fourth, a Penalty 3 conversion by Arellano propelled the U.S. back in the right direction instigating their best chukker of the match. Yet, the unyielding English force quickly countered to maintain the gap. USA’s Nic Roldan would manage two more goals in the second half, including a stunning 70-yard shot, but it was not enough to suppress the English momentum. Four goals from Cudmore, one a rocketing backshot through the uprights, cemented the win. A final push and score from Arellano, cut the deficit in half 12-6 to end the loss on a good note. “All the horses that I played today were from John Paul Clarkin,” shared Arellano. “He mounted me completely, it was a pleasure. There were two or three that I told him if he didn’t want, I would be happy to bring home.”
Beim received Most Valuable Player and his gray mare Salsita, played in the first and fifth chukkers, donned the Best Playing Pony blanket. “She is a homebred I trained, out of an American Thoroughbred called Salsa and an Australian Ellerston stallion named Clark. She just turned eight, so I am very happy with her progress,” Beim said. Playing his own exceptional string, Roldan didn’t walk away empty handed, his nine-year-old bay gelding Mariscal receiving the unique honor of Repurposed Racehorse Best Playing Pony. “I bought him last year,” Roldan said. “He is an Argentine Thoroughbred. I bought him in the states and flew him straight here. I played him in the first and fourth chukker today and have been playing him here in England all season.”
Despite an unfavorable outcome for USA, morale seemed overwhelmingly positive. “It has been so fun to play with these guys and it’s great to visit other countries and play on horses you don’t know to benefit your own polo,” said Gonzalez. “It’s a great experience and I recommend it to everybody.”
England accepted the United States’ challenge to play the Westchester Cup on U.S. soil in 2019, offering redemption, as strategic talk began for next year. “We were all very hopeful going into the game and positive, but the fact of the matter is that any time you are on foreign land it’s really difficult,” said Roldan after the game. “These guys have been playing together for years, they have numerous international matches throughout the year. We have one off per year, I think we have a lot of work to do building up the international team and finding time for us to play together.” Hall looks forward to next year’s challenge on U.S. soil. “They beat us forward and backwards. I knew it was going to be really tough and it didn’t work out for us today. I will be remembering this one and thinking about challenging them next year.”
“I’d like to congratulate the English team on an amazing win today,” said USPA CEO Robert Puetz. “They played solid polo, were strategic, well organized and well prepared. Additionally, I would like to thank the Hurlingham Polo Association who provided amazing and welcoming hospitality to our team. A huge thank you goes out to all the people involved in helping to support the USA team with horses, practices and fields that enabled us to play at this historic event. This was not the outcome that we had hoped, planned or worked for. However, we realize that they were the better team today in all aspects. We have a lot of work ahead of us and we are prepared to do whatever it takes to be ready and take back the Westchester Cup in 2019.”
Arellano relayed his happiness at having been able to represent his country and share this unique moment competing alongside his daughter Hope (2018 Westchester Cup Junior Champion) declaring, “I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
All photos ©United States Polo Association/Helen Cruden.