Ali Albwardy’s Dubai team, featuring the world’s leading player Adolfo Cambiaso, return to defend the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup for the British Open Championship, having claimed a fourth triumph in the world’s most important tournament at 22-goal level last summer.
The tournament begins on June 23, culminating with the final on July 19, with the draw to be held on Monday night at Jaeger-LeCoultre’s new boutique on Old Bond Street, London, where players and patrons from each of the 14 teams will be represented.
Since its inception in 1956, the Gold Cup has become the most important single, polo tournament played outside Argentina, a powerhouse in the sport. Its home is Cowdray Park Polo Club, where all the final rounds are played.
Set within Viscount Cowdray’s 16,500 acre estate in Midhurst, West Sussex, Cowdray Park Polo Club, with its cricket square and castle ruins next to the polo grounds, mark it out as quintessentially English.
For many, it has become a permanent fixture in the summer social and sporting diary as part of the summer season, with thousands of spectators turning out on finals day for an event which was sponsored from 1995 by Veuve Clicquot. Jaeger-LeCoultre are the official timekeepers for the polo grounds, and have become the newly-heralded title sponsors this season.
There is great anticipation for another hotly-contested title in 2015. An impressive debut was made in the 2014 tournament by the King Power team of Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha, which reached the final in its first ever entry of the Gold Cup.
They return in 2015 – with 10-goal brothers Gonzalo and Facundo Pieres – alongside a second King Power team with Top’s brother Apichet ‘Tal’Srivaddhanaprabha in the driving seat for King Power Foxes.
Winners in 2011 and 2013, Lyndon Lea’s Zacara team also makes a welcome return. El Remanso, with the Hanbury family team, has also featured strongly in the tournament in recent years, reaching the final in 2012. Other teams re-entering the British Open Championship are the HB Polo side of Sebastien and Ludovic Pailloncy, Nick Clarke’s Salkeld team, Edouard Carmignac’s Talandracas and Harald Link’s Thai Polo team, as well as the UAE side.
Brand new to the tournament are Michael Bickford’s La Indiana side – with England captain James Beim and compatriot James Harper – Ben Soleimani’s RH Polo, and Dr Hilal Noordeen’s VPS Healthcare Sifani.
In all, around £40 million will have been invested in the teams by the patrons.
Chris Bethell, manager of polo at Cowdray Park, explained: “We’re delighted that Jaeger-LeCoultre are this year’s title sponsors for the British Open, a title coveted by the greatest players in the world, and a group of very ambitious patrons who invest heavily in having the best teams, and the best strings of ponies. It is unique in sport, in the sense that the patrons are amateurs, and choose from the very best players in the world.
“Jaeger-LeCoultre are not new to Cowdray Park, though. Since 2006 they have been the official timekeeper and are now taking it to the next level.”
Bethel will seed the top four teams, after the quarter finals of the Queen’s Cup, which is currently ongoing. Bethell added: “Those four semi-finalists will be seeded and then everyone else will come out of the hat.
“I guarantee every team four league games, and the top eight, determined by points and goal difference, go forward to the quarter finals. We are expecting a thrilling tournament this year, culminating in the final with around 15,000 spectators at Cowdray Park.”
Zahra Kassim-Lakha, Jaeger-LeCoultre Director of Global Strategy, said: “With our Reverso watch made for British officers in India in 1931, Polo is in our blood. Jaeger-LeCoultre is absolutely thrilled to be partnering with Cowdray at this level. With an unprecedented 14 teams competing in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup this year, we think 2015 will be the beginning of a very exciting era for the legendary tournament in the UK and around the world.”