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2023 Cowdray Gold Cup - British Open Polo Championship

The British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup is one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world and always promises a spectacle of exceptional polo – and the 2023 edition did not disappoint.

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2023 Cowdray Gold Clup

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

With the Cowdray Castle ruins as a backdrop and the grass of Lawns One polo ground as lush as any fairway, the location for the British Open Polo Championship is a spectacular one.

Since 1956, high-goal teams have been vying for the Gold Cup at Cowdray Park Polo Club, an illustrious venue nestled in the rolling hills of South West England. Every year the tournament culminates in a hard-fought and impassioned battle to crown its winner. The 2023 edition was no different.

Fifteen teams featuring some of the best polo athletes in the world played 37 games over four weeks to decide on the tournament’s finalists. Some matches were decided only in the dying seconds whilst others were gladiatorial routs. Ultimately, it was two teams from the Middle East who emerged victorious: Dubai and UAE Polo.

2023 Cowdray Gold Clup

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

The former team and its patron family, the Albwardys, have been a mainstay of the UK high goal season for nearly thirty years, whilst the latter has been gradually gaining ground as its patron, HH Sheikha Maitha Al Maktoum and team mastermind, Lucas Monteverde have invested in and meticulously planned a lethal and winning organization. Both teams were on very good odds to make it to the end despite the tough competition.

2022 runners-up, Dubai played a nigh on perfect tournament, remaining unbeaten through the league stages, onto the quarters and into the semis. Coming into the final with a pure scorecard, a coveted history, and a hired assassin – the 10 goaler Camilo ‘Jeta’ Castagnola – one could forgive the team in green reveling in its confidence.

However, their opposition, UAE Polo also featured a Castagnola – Jeta’s 19-year-old brother, Barto Jr. – and the solid presence of defensive back, Tommy Beresford who battled their way to the final, maybe not quite as elegantly, but tenacious and hungry nonetheless.

2023 Cowdray Gold Clup

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

And it was this hunger which exploded onto the pitch come Final’s Day. Leaving Dubai in a tailspin, UAE Polo quickly took the lead scoring, one-two-three-four goals before Dubai had a moment to gain a hold and change their tactics. Fortunately, in the second chukka, a combination play between Jeta and Rashid Albwardy resulted in a goal and Dubai claimed their first notch on the scoreboard.

Whilst UAE Polo found the goalposts again in chukka three, it was Dubai who, having woken up and thrown themselves readily into the fray, scored a volley of goals and rode into half-time only just behind 4 goals to 5.

As the players took to the pitch for the second half, the increased pressure was palpable and the cheering from the crowd was gaining in momentum. Chukkas four and five saw both teams add to the goal-scoring tallies and demonstrate their prowess at defensive plays, but still UAE Polo edged ahead. In the sixth and with just two minutes left on the clock, Dubai finally drew level at 10-10.

2023 Cowdray Gold Clup

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

All spectators – those in the stands and behind the pony lines, those watching mere meters from the pitch and those logging in online – were then treated to a frenetic run to end of play. Real nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat stuff.

Switches in direction, giant ride offs, fearless races down the boards, pre-planned plays and quick adaptions all happened in the blink of an eye as the clock counted down. And then, at last, Barto Castagnola seemingly cajoled the ball to the end of his polo stick and took off down pitch, before flicking it over to his teammate Lukin Monteverde. Scooping the ball mid-air and at full throttle gallop, Lukin kept his cool and slotted it through the posts to make it 12-11 – and take the win for an exultant UAE Polo.

UAE Polo claimed the trophy to real roars from the crowd, a tribute to not only their championship win, but their evolving position as a team to watch and their relentless pursuit in recent years and throughout the season. Barto Castagnola took MVP while his brother Camilo was crowned top scorer of the tournament having secured 54 goals in total for Dubai.

2023 Cowdray Gold Clup

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

At this level, the sheer talent of the players and the agility of the ponies, the volume of the organizations and the dedication of the behind-the-scenes teams, means that every Championship winner tells a fantastic story.

Yet this year’s seemed particularly inspiring. A first-time win; two brothers on opposing teams who love the thrill of competition, but struggle with vying against each other; a strong female presence in UAE Polo’s Kayley Smith who subbed in for patron HH Sheikha Maitha.

In addition, there's the UK player with historic polo roots like Tommy Beresford who’s family have left an indelible mark on the sport; a line-up of extraordinarily talented and young players meaning a changing of the high goal guard… Countless stories indeed from one day, one great game. The British Open Championship 2023 was definitely one for the record books.

2023 Cowdray Gold Clup

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

The British Open Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup Finals teams:

DUBAI (22): Camilo ‘Jeta’ Castagola (10), Rashid Albwardy (2), Beltrán Laulhé (3), Rufino Bensadón (7)

UAE POLO (22): Kayley Smith (0), Lukin Monteverde (6), Barto Jr. Castagnola (9), Tommy Beresford (7)


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