©Mark Beaumont

Play on Saturday in the British Open Polo Championship for the Cowdray Gold Cup began with a meeting between two undefeated teams in Park Place Vaara and Great Oaks LL, while Marques de Riscal and Vikings battled into overtime in a thrilling second match.

A rematch of the Cartier Queen’s Cup final, Park Place Vaara and Great Oaks LL met on the Ambersham grounds, with the former seeking a different result than their last encounter. Expecting a high-scoring match, Park Place Vaara set the early tone behind the play of Juan Britos, who added to the one-goal advantage on handicap with a field goal and Penalty 2 conversion for a 3-0 lead. Despite a brief response from Great Oaks LL’s Cruz Heguy off a pass from James Beim, Park Place Vaara applied a relentless pressure that allowed them to build a significant lead. Scoring four unanswered goals, Park Place Vaara held a commanding 7-1 lead, receiving two goals each from Britos and Hilario Ulloa. Foul trouble for Great Oaks LL resulted in three penalty goals for Park Place Vaara before the end of the second chukka. Finally able to contain their opponent’s attack, Great Oaks LL inched closer with one penalty conversion from Heguy, but at halftime it was Park Place Vaara holding the 7-3 lead.

Exchanging goals early in the second half, it seemed like the two teams would battle into the final chukka, but Park Place Vaara’s defense changed the game over the final two chukkas. Preventing Great Oaks LL from scoring a single field goal since the first chukka, Park Place Vaara extended their lead on consecutive goals from Britos. Struggling to generate enough scoring chances at goal, Great Oaks LL saw their deficit widen as they were unable to challenge Park Place Vaara in the late stages of the match. Holding Great Oaks LL scoreless over the final two chukkas, Park Place Vaara cemented their impressive victory with final goals from Ulloa and Santos Merlos for the statement 12-4 victory against the previously unbeaten Great Oaks LL.

Focused on joining Park Place Vaara with a 3-0 record, Marques de Riscal ran into a determined Vikings team to produce an exciting match. Never separated by more than one goal at the end of each chukka, Vikings took the early 3-2 advantage after Penalty 3 and 4 conversions from Juan Martin Zubia. In a near reversal of the opening seven minutes, Marques de Riscal brought the game back to even at 4-4, with Guillermo Caset leading the charge. In a fitting conclusion to the first half, Vikings’ Diego Cavanagh and Marques de Riscal’s Santiago Cernadas traded assisted field goals as the first three chukkas left the teams deadlocked at 5-all.

The back-and-forth action carried into the second half with few whistles producing fast polo and scoring opportunities for both teams. Ending the fourth chukka with consecutive field goals, Mark Tomlinson lifted Vikings to the 7-6 lead with much to be decided over the final two chukkas. Team scoring leader Caset gave Marques de Riscal their second lead of the game, including a second goal from a pass by Alejandro Aznar, but Vikings restored their narrow one-goal lead just minutes later thanks to the play of Zubia. Destined to be decided in overtime, Marques de Riscal turned to Cernadas, who scored his third and fourth goals on perfect shooting as Vikings were unable to hold off the late charge. In the extra chukka, Marques de Riscal executed a flawless Penalty 5 as Caset hit a neckshot to goal that was hit just over the line by Aznar to seal the 11-10 win.

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