Autumn rain fell unremittingly at the South Field of Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club on Friday, 7th October, but it failed to dampen the spirits of Grand Finalists Fast Fish and Axus, two 10-12 goal Asian polo teams facing off under heavy skies to fight tooth and hoof for the first ever Fortune Heights National Cup.
Both sides had earned the right to contest the final after besting their opponents the day before in a pair of exciting matches. On Wednesday, 5th October the competition kicked off with the Chinese Challenge, an historic all-Chinese exhibition polo match representing an important milestone in the development of modern polo in China.
In the saddle for Fast Fish on Friday, sporting dark blue jerseys, were Windson Rao, Rodrigo Bauzada, Guy Gibrat, and John Fisher. Their opponents Axus, clad in red, were Brian Xu, Diego Gomez, Ignacio Kennedy, and Dario Musso.
First blood went to Axus after a minute of play, with Ignacio Kennedy tapping in the easiest of penalties. The team in red were soon on the charge again, but Diego Gomez was unable to steer the ball between the posts. Tenacious play by Fast Fish’s Guy Gibrat won his side a penalty, which John Fisher thumped in to level the scores. Gibrat exploded out of the blocks after the restart, only to see his shot turned away on the line. But then followed a fantastic team goal from Fast Fish, Guy Gibrat once again thrashing a superb pass up field for Rodrigo Bauzada to chase down and swat home, making it 2-1 to the team in dark blue after the first chukka.
Axus soon made it all square after two minutes of the second chukka with a well-struck penalty from range, only for Fast Fish to break away again, but this time fail to convert their attack. Shots were raining in from all sides, but accuracy was found wanting. Then who should pop up but Guy Gibrat, stealing the ball in the middle of the park and racing in a stunning solo goal to put Fast Fish ahead once again, the scores 3-2 at half time.
It was Fast Fish who started the strongest after the restart, Guy Gibrat doing the hard work in attack and leaving the ball for teammate Windson Rao, who kept his composure to bundle it over the line on the three minute mark. But just as Fast Fish were looking the more dominant side, Axus suddenly found their form, Diego Gomez galloping in a fine goal at both ends to draw the scores level with one chukka left to play.
Axus had hit their stride at the perfect point in the match. Ignacio Kennedy got the fourth chukka underway by bursting through the dark blue ranks to give his side a one-goal advantage. Play was tense and testy for most of the final chukka, neither side giving an inch. It would need a moment of individual brilliance, and it came in the form of Diego Gomez for Axus, hurtling on to a long ball and showing magnificent speed and control to guide the ball between the posts and put the result beyond doubt. The final score at the bell, Axus 6, Fast Fish 4.
In the Subsidiary Final between BookDoc and Wahaha, there was an unusual line-up change to report. BookDoc team patron and four-goal star Chevy Beh hadn’t fully recovered from a nasty concussion received in the semi-final, and so his stirrups were being filled by veteran Derek Reid, Head of Polo Operations at Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club and tournament commentator in absentia. On Friday also happened to be his 58th birthday; this surely was an unexpected present.
For BookDoc playing in pink: Juan Niveyro, Matthew O’Leary, Hugo Palacios and Derek Reid. In the saddle for Wahaha, sporting bright yellow jerseys, were Claudio Barrientos, Agustin Burmann, Fernando Erreguerena, and Agustin Calvo.
The first chukka began with a carnival atmosphere but soon settled, and after seven minutes of end-to-end polo was evenly poised at a goal each. The second chukka produced some of the most exciting goals of the tournament, greeted with great cheers from the grandstand. Wahaha just edged the play, and went into half time leading by a single goal, the scores 3-2.
Wahaha stretched the lead by another goal in the third chukka, as heavy cloud obscured the looming edifice of the Goldin Finance 117 skyscraper. BookDoc weren’t giving up without a fight however, pulling a goal back halfway through the final period. And then followed a splendid curling strike from range to bring BookDoc level with a minute left on the clock. And level it stayed, ushering in a fifth ‘golden goal’ chukka. In the end it was Wahaha, the team from Tianjin, who charged away to score the final goal of the tournament and claim third place.
At the closing medals ceremony, Ignacio Kennedy from team Axus was awarded the tournament’s MVP for his three runaway goals in today’s final. Birthday boy Derek Reid was called upon to present the prize of Best Pony, this time going to Genius.
All eyes now turn to the Snow Polo World Cup in 2017, the next big ticket polo event at the Tianjin Goldin Metropolitan Polo Club.