Glamorous history of the Cowdray Park Gold Cup
PUBLISHED: 11:00 19 July 2016 | UPDATED: 11:00 19 July 2016
The Cowdray Park Gold Cup celebrated its diamond jubilee this year. Liz Higgins explores its glamorous history
After World War II, polo was all but forgotten in Britain. John Cowdray, 3rd Viscount and an enthusiast of the sport, set about reviving it, encouraging former players to pick up the reins again, breeding new ponies and bringing new players into the sport.
Prince Philip had been introduced to polo by his uncle Lord Mountbatten whilst serving with the Royal Navy in Malta. In 1952 he played at Cowdray Park. In 1953 he started his own polo club, the Household Brigade Club (later to become Guards) and the major polo trophy in the UK, the Coronation Cup, was given a permanent home there. This encouraged John Cowdray to launch a similarly prestigious trophy at Cowdray Park. The first ever Cowdray Park Gold Cup was in 1956. Prince Philip entered a Windsor team but didn’t make it to the final. However, he was victorious the following year and again in 1966 and 1969.
In its early years, the weekend of the Gold Cup Final was a time for parties and fun with local polo-playing families inviting guests to stay and join in the festivities. The Queen often attended the Gold Cup and on several occasions joined the Cowdray family for lunch before presenting the trophy. Her presence attracted thousands of spectators.
By the 1970s polo had moved on from being a sport principally played by wealthy gentlemen into one where most teams hired talented overseas professional players. The Stowell Park team of Lord Sam Vestey and his brother The Hon Mark Vestey enjoyed massive success through this period, having Argentine polo legends Eduardo Moore and Hector Barrantes on their Gloucestershire-based team. They moved the team and all the horses to Cowdray for the month of July to play the Gold Cup and join in every scrap of fun to be had.
In the 1980s the teams to watch were Southfields and Tramontana. Businessman David Jamison joined Cowdray Park Polo Club in 1977. In 1984 he joined forces with David Yeoman in joint patronage of the Southfields and Centaurs teams. Their Southfields team won the Gold Cup in 1984. In 1987 Jamison joined Anthony Embiricos and his Tramontana team. The team included Mexican 10-goaler Carlos Gracida and Argentine six-goaler Roberto Gonzales. Their success rate was impressive, winning the Gold Cup against The Prince of Wales’ Windsor Park side in 1987, Hildon House in 1988 and Cowdray Park in 1989. When his handicap was raised to four in 1991, David Jamison parted company with Tramontana. Embiricos’s side went on to win the Gold Cup again that year, beating Kerry Packer’s Ellerston White. In Tramontana’s last three Gold Cup victories, the award for Best Playing Pony went to Jamison’s black gelding, Chesney. This former racehorse bought from the Ascot sales became a phenomenal polo pony and was famously ridden by Carlos Gracida, the only player to notch up 10 Gold Cup wins in his career. Significantly, Carlos also brought in a dynamic 16-year-old player, Adolfo Cambiaso, who went on to become the world’s leading player.
Kerry Packer was the name on everyone’s lips in the 1990s. The Australian billionaire purchased a substantial country property near Midhurst and developed a polo complex with state-of-the-art polo pitches. He also raised the stakes in terms of the quality of horsepower in the sport – bringing in ponies from Australia, America, New Zealand and Argentina for his players.
With his son James, Kerry Packer ran two Ellerston teams – Ellerston White and Ellerston Black. Victory eluded them until 1994 when Ellerston Black beat Pegasus 13-11.
The following year Ellerston White was victorious over Urs Schwarzenbach’s Black Bears’ team. In 1996 Ellerston White were seen off by the American former senator Brook Johnson’s CS Brooks team, although the result was reversed in 1998 when Ellerston beat CS Brooks 13-6 with Adolfo Cambiaso in the team (in fact he scored a staggering 130 goals during the tournament that year!)
With Brook Johnson’s team also based nearby, there was fierce rivalry between the two local teams which added to the spectators’ enjoyment in those thrilling years.
Black Bears emerged as an exceptional side in the 1990s, winning for the first time in 1992 and making it to the final in 1995 and 2000, achieving victory again in 2002, only to lose to the mighty Dubai side in 2005. Dubai’s successes in 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2014 owed much to the team’s lynchpin Adolfo Cambiaso.
The new kids on the block are King Power, a name easily recognised in the sporting world as the owners of Leicester City Football Club. In their first entry into the Gold Cup in 2014 they reached the final only to be beaten by Dubai. Last year was a different story. Having selected the amazing talent of Gonzalito and Facundo Pieres – 10 goal Argentine brothers – they won each of their matches in the tournament and achieved victory against UAE.
Every professional polo player dreams of winning the Gold Cup. Through late June and into July Cowdray Park is centre of the polo universe, with players flocking to the UK.
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