Published in News on 11 Oct 2016

A UKAFPA side made the annual pilgrimage State-side in Autumn to compete for the coveted Commonwealth Cup.

With little information except bring polo kit, swimming trunks and a blazer the team met with great excitement at Heathrow Airport. The pecking order was immediately enforced as the team captain Major (Gold Card) Cann turned left onto the British Airways flight and the rest of the team, comprising of Peter Smith, Maurice Ormerod and Hector Fair, headed right.

On arrival in Washington and having established that BA had lost Hector’s luggage we were met by Juan Salinas-Bentley, a long-standing friend of the tour, who took us off to our first destination, Banbury Cross Polo Club. An evening at Greenhill Winery provided a great opportunity to meet many of those who we would be playing against in the forthcoming matches.

Overnight rain meant our first game was moved to the arena at Great Meadow Polo Club, where we played two hard fought and close warm up matches. The forty degree temperatures proved a challenge for both horse and unaccustomed British players but thankfully we could cool by the pool of opposing player, Debbie Nash afterwards. In preparation for the Commonwealth Cup the following day, that evening the Salamander Resort threw a drinks party in honour of ‘The British Invasion.’

The Commonwealth Cup was played at Banbury Cross against a team headed up by Philip Staples, a long-standing rival of the UKAFPA, and Nelson Gunnel, who we were kindly staying with. The first two chukkas were incredibly tight, and the tourists went into half time losing 3 – 2½. A positive team talk from our captain made us believe that this might be the year we reclaimed the trophy but alas the opposition came out flying and scored three quick goals at the beginning of the third chukka. This gave the US team the grasp on the game they were after and another goal at the end of the third and another at the beginning of the fourth cemented the result for the US team.

The weekend’s next big event was in aid of The National Sporting Library and we were playing a different USA team in the first match. As part of the event, Mrs Mars and Nacho Figueras were hosting a drinks party and we were invited. The party did not disappoint and having eaten a delicious supper and plenty of chocolate we headed back to Banbury Cross for the evening’s party.

Saturday provided the first bit of rest and after a leisurely start, we headed off to our home for the next few days with Peggy Arundel. Having settled into her magnificent house, it was off to The National Sporting Library for a spot of culture before our next drinks party with Bill Ballhaus at Beverly Equestrian. The packed itinerary allowed for no drinking as we were playing again later that evening at the twilight polo event at Great Meadow.

Twilight Polo at Great Meadow is an incredible spectacle, with more than 2,000 spectators and plenty of activities, music and drinks to keep people entertained. The UKAFPA team played the USA, captained by the great John Gobin. Thankfully on our part Maurice Ormerod had plenty of arena experience and almost single headedly kept the us in the match. It was incredibly close throughout but sadly the team lost 11-10.

The Sunday match at Great Meadow in aid of The National Sporting Library proved to be a highlight of the tour. We were led onto an immaculate pitch by a marching band, flanked by the ‘The Old Guard’ of the 3rd United States Infantry. Following the national anthems, a red Ferrari appeared in the centre of the pitch for the charity ball toss to start proceedings.

The UKAFPA were playing an experienced team of Juan Salinas-Bentley, Doug Barnes, Whitney Ross and David Tafuri, a CNN presenter. The match was incredibly tight throughout with the USA either drawing or leading by one goal. Mark Cann displayed his experience by keeping the team in the match with excellent penalties – and as a result we went into the last chukka 5-4 down. Despite some chances we were unable to score in the final chukka and lost by a single goal. Although we had lost it had been an incredible experience to play at such a fantastic event in such a hard-fought game.

The next few days gave us our first chance to truly relax and we headed down to Virginia Beach to stay with Bart Fry. The journey was made even more relaxing by Philip Staples, who kindly flew us in his jet. A couple of relaxing days on the beach, broken up by some stick and balling at Virginia Beach Polo Club, provided us all with the rest and recuperation required after four polo matches and six parties in five days.

We flew back up to Virginia to play a final game at Banbury Cross against a rest of the world team. Off the back of a quiet couple of days and having finally acclimatised, the team played well together and won comfortably by a couple of goals. This was all the more rewarding as it was the final game for Mark, who flew back to England later that evening.

The final leg of the tour was up to Brandywine Polo Club, Pennsylvania where we were generously hosted by Nicholas Place for the weekend. Friday night gave us a chance to try our ponies in club chukkas alongside our new team mate Nicholas, an ex-Royal Marine. A rare day off on Saturday gave us the chance to meet Adam Snow, a former US polo captain with a 10 goal handicap, before a trip around Philip Dutton’s event yard and seeing his horse back from the Rio Olympics complete with a bronze medal.

We went into Sunday’s game quietly confident that we could finish the trip with a win, however with Juan Martinez-Baez, a former 5 goal player as their captain, we knew it would not be easy. At half time the game was very much in the balance and the scores were level at 3-3.

After strong words of encouragement from Nicholas, we went back out and the fast flowing combination of Maurice and Hector effectively put the game to bed in the third chukka. Two late goals in the final chukka from Juan were not enough and we won 10-7. It was a great result to finish the trip with and it seemed a popular victory in front of a surprising number of British supporters.

Throughout the entire tour we were fantastically hosted, accommodated and mounted and enormous thanks must go to everyone who looked after us. A special mention must go to Juan Salinas-Bentley who organised it all from the US end and Mark Cann, who without their efforts, the tour would not have happened.

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