They held the upper hand throughout against the power of Dubai to finally clinch victory 12-9 in their first ever Gold Cup win, but the three goal margin of the final result does not reflect the drama of the final minutes of the match. Tense does not describe it!
Cowdray had done a great job – the place was packed, the trade village and bars doing roaring trade with live music and everybody enjoying the sunshine (but not too hot, despite the heatwave) and horse welfare concerns addressed with covered marquees, misters and fans, it was a stupendous display of all things good in polo. The match itself was fast but fair, with clean play and great umpiring resulting in open, flowing action. A thumbs up all round from us!
On paper, Park Place were the underdogs, having had a somewhat rocky road to the Final – in fact they were defeated by Dubai in the qualifiers 17-14 and suffered defeat at the hands of Talandracas (later defeating them in the Semi Finals).
Whilst Park Place have never won the Gold Cup, Dubai are certainly no strangers to victory in this tournament, having won the tournament five times previously, most recently with the then 16-year-old Jeta Castagnola claiming victory for them in extra time in 2019.
The match started with Dubai having a goal advantage on the scoreboard due to handicap difference, but Park Place made short work of this with Fran Elizade and Facundo Pieres finding the posts in the opening couple of minutes. If Dubai thought they had to watch just these older, more experienced players Louis Hine put paid to this, coolly scoring a goal with time to spare to bring the first chukka score 4-1 to Park Place’s advantage. Hine won the tournament with Thai last year, two wins of the Gold Cup at still only 16-years-old? One to watch for sure!
But back to the match – Park Place definitely looked in control, the question was how long could they keep it up? It turned out not for long as Dubai fought back with the second chukka even Stevens at four apiece. Frenetic activity in the third saw it still tight with Park Place just one goal up 7-6 going into half time, but still looking in control. No doubt Lolo Castagnola (former 10 goaler and father of Jeta) had something to say at half time. But whatever he said it did not have the desired effect as Park Place notched up three more goes after the interval resulting in a 10-6 for Park Place at the end of the fourth chukka.
Then something shifted and Dubai started to claw their way back towards the podium, in fast, open, end to end thrilling play with Castagnola and Matt Perry scoring to bring the end of the fifth chukka too close to call at 10-8 still in favour of Park Place.
As the sixth and final chukka whistle sounded spectators were expecting a slam dunk as Castagnola teed up a 40 yard penalty which incredibly he missed. What? It was a pivotal moment. But Park Place’s relief was short lived as three-time Argentine Open winner Pieres missed a goal, but Castagnola did not, slotting one home to bring it so close at 10-9 with just minutes to go. The young Castagnola gained possession, running to goal nearly the whole length of the field, effortlessly striking the ball boldly towards goal. Everybody assumed that would be the goal to draw the match and an extra time battle would ensue. It was a dead cert surely? But even this young phenomenon has nerves it seems, as incredibly he missed. Dubai were still fighting but Park Place further added insult to injury by scoring another two in quick succession with the final score of 12-9 in Park Place’s favour, so clinching their first ever Gold Cup win.
A great performance from Elizade who was incredibly mounted and really on form for Park Place, 10 goaler Pirez was indefatigable at back, both shutting the door in defence and opening it wide open too in attack and richly deserving his fifth Gold Cup win. Josh Hyde – son of arena 10 goal player Chris was strong and dependable; whist young Louis Hine was more than impressive. As a team they played fluidly, cohesively and coolly.
Dubai were nearly good enough yesterday. But not, as they say, quite good enough when the chips were down. No doubt they will be back next year looking for that elusive sixth Gold Cup victory.
What a day! What a match! What a great day for young players. All in all? Great stuff.