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ENGLAND PREVAILS IN WESTCHESTER CUP WITH DECISIVE VICTORY

Apr 04, 2023 3:24 PM

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2023 Westchester Cup Champions: England - James Beim, Mark Tomlinson, Max Charlton, Tomas Beresford.
2023 Westchester Cup Champions: England - James Beim, Mark Tomlinson, Max Charlton, Tomas Beresford.

Prestigious international competition returned to the National Polo Center - Wellington (Wellington, Florida) on Friday, March 31, with the historic Westchester Cup. An even match throughout the majority of the game, the USA (Matt Coppola*, Nicolas ‘Nico’ Escobar*, Jeff Hall, Jared Zenni*) was pitted against a formidable English team (James Beim, Tomas Beresford, Max Charlton, Mark Tomlinson). Shutting out USA in the fifth chukker while also putting three goals on the board, England was able to dominate both the offensive and defensive ends as time wound down. Without enough time to mount a successful comeback, England captured the 12-9 victory, triumphantly avenging their 2019 overtime loss. Despite the English victory, USA still maintains the winning Westchester Cup record, with 11 total wins compared to England’s nine.

“The game was tough, but at the end, we were just kind of inching away.”  – England's James Beim

Throughout the Florida winter high-goal season, the USA team has been preparing for the Westchester Cup by competing in the Gauntlet of Polo as La Elina. For England, there was much less time to prepare. Team Captain Beresford commented, “We did two team practices. Honestly, we were only here for a week, so we didn’t have that much time. Luckily, Mark and Beim have played a lot together in the past. We all know each other. But to get that rhythm—La Elina’s been playing together all season, so they had a huge advantage there. I think we just went out there with a positive mindset, got the best horses we could and made sure we left everything on the field.”

USA's Jeff Hall clashes with England's James Beim.
USA's Jeff Hall clashes with England's James Beim.

In terms of adjusting their strategy to meet the USA team specifically, Beresford added, “It was quite hard to get a feel for how they were going to play today, because obviously in the U.S. Open […] It’s slightly more compact the way they played. […] I think we just focused on ourselves. We knew that Mark and James Beim had a lot of experience in this polo, and we just tried to make the most of getting the best horses we could, which I think we did a great job of doing. I think Max was probably MVP today, I don’t think it was necessarily my best game today. My three teammates really brought it home, and I think it was a real team effort.”

England's Mark Tomlinson breaks away from USA's Nicolas 'Nico' Escobar.
England's Mark Tomlinson breaks away from USA's Nico Escobar.

The match was played using the players’ world’s highest handicaps, meaning that players competed on their highest handicap on record. For England, all the players’ English handicaps matched their world’s highest handicap level. For USA, several of the players were handicapped based on their Argentine rating. Escobar’s highest world rating is 6 in Argentina. Similarly, Hall and Zenni are handicapped at 7 goals in Argentina. Coppola is handicapped at 4 goals in Argentina, but 5 in the U.S., so he remained 5 goals. Using this system, the two teams were both rated 25 goals.

Teams got off to a fairly level start, both capitalizing on two scoring opportunities to end the first chukker tied. USA’s Escobar and England’s Charlton continued this pattern in the second chukker to leave the score at 3-all. Goals from Coppola, Hall and Zenni equalized three goals from Beim and Tomlinson to end the first half on a level playing field 6-all.

Speaking to his team’s strategy and success, England’s Beim shared, “Myself and Mark have played a lot together and in Cámara [de Diputados] level and high levels of polo, and Tomy is a star, he’s going to be in the [Argentine] Open soon. We understand how to play a high level of polo, which is a little bit quicker and less touches. So, we just came in with that mindset and worked to play fast and hit backhands and Max fit in amazing at three and crushed the ball.”

“Outside the field, we had Hilario Ulloa, who’s our coach. Having a 10-goaler on the sidelines, it means the world to have his support.”  – England's Tomas Beresford

USA's Jeff Hall reaches for the hook on England's Tomas Beresford.
USA's Jeff Hall reaches for the hook on England's Tomas Beresford.

England came out guns blazing as the second half started. A Penalty 2 from Beresford and a goal from Charlton outpaced a sole Penalty 1 awarded to USA, placing England in the lead 8-7. Making the most of their momentum, England’s Charlton, Beim and Beresford added three more combined goals while also keeping USA off the board in the fifth chukker. England now leading 11-7 entering the final chukker, a late push from Hall and Zenni hoped to inspire a USA comeback, but it was too little too late. A final English goal from Charlton kept his team ahead 12-9 as time expired, returning the international trophy to England.

A ceremonious victory for several of the players, many of the English team members are returning victors. Beim commented, “This is pretty special. This is my fourth time doing it, and the last time I came here was 2009, and it's always hard to come anywhere, but here especially, and ask for horses and we had a big week preparing for that. People were so generous and it was really nice because we had a really great team spirit.” Similarly, Tomlinson explained, “So, for me it’s the third Westchester Cup, third win. It’s amazing to think my first one was 2009, over ten years ago!”

USA's Matt Coppola keeps his eyes on the ball with England's James Beim on defense.
USA's Matt Coppola keeps his eyes on the ball with England's James Beim on defense.

“So, for me it’s the third Westchester Cup, third win. It’s amazing to think my first one was 2009, over ten years ago!”  – England's James Beim

Relying heavily on the local horsepower they were able to accumulate, Beresford detailed his team’s process of acquiring horses. “It was stressful. We didn’t have a day off. We were moving around, playing practices everywhere, riding everywhere. A special thanks on my behalf to Carlitos Gracida, he was unbelievable, he gave me some incredible horses. Jeta and Barto Castagnola, they gave me some of their top horses here, and Melissa Ganzi and Park Place gave me a couple as well. I didn’t necessarily play some of the horses I tried, but a huge thank you to Polito Pieres as well, he let me try some horses, that was a great help. Outside the field, we had Hilario Ulloa, who’s our coach. Having a 10-goaler on the sidelines, it means the world to have his support.

England's Max Charlton hits a booming shot ahead of USA's Matt Coppola.
England's Max Charlton hits a booming shot ahead of USA's Matt Coppola.

A returning coach for England, Ulloa also helped guide the English team in the 2022 Coronation Cup against Uruguay. Beresford continued, “We love the energy he brings to the team. We knew he was here and just asked if he would be interested, and luckily, he gave us the time and was very, very helpful.”

Similarly, Beim praised the horses he was able to play, including Destina Viola rented from Felipe Viana, a standout gray mare that Hazel Jackson played in the U.S. Open Women’s Polo Championship. Tomlinson identified Pelon Stirling’s Cara Miñola and Mark Ganzi’s Gramon and Vino Tinto as standouts on his string.

Matt Coppola on Best Playing Pony MC Adele.
Matt Coppola on Best Playing Pony MC Adele.

For his 3-goal performance and relentless work on both sides of the ball, 26-year-old English Captain Tomas Beresford, the team’s youngest member, was awarded Most Valuable Player. Discussing what the award means to him, Beresford commented, “It’s huge. On a personal level—being captain for the first time in this game. I’ve played it a couple of times, luckily, we won once in England and we lost one game here in an extra chukker in 2019, just before the pandemic. So, it’s great to be back here in Palm Beach and playing with such a fun team.”

Most Valuable Player Tomas Beresford.
Most Valuable Player Tomas Beresford.

Matt Coppola’s first chukker horse and last chukker spare, MC Adele (River Dance x Riojana), was presented Best Playing Pony honors. Providing more background on her, Coppola explained, “She’s a homebred. She’s out of a mare that my father [Tony Coppola] used to play, and she’s by River Dance, who’s Owen Reinhart’s. She’s 10 years-old and I’ve been playing her since she was 4 years-old. So, she’s played four or five consecutive years in the high-goal and she keeps getting better, I’m really happy. Actually, today I played two full brothers of Adele. I played two younger brothers, one a stallion, Sundance, and one a gelding, so for me, being such a small breeder, it’s a huge achievement and something that I’m really proud of.”

“For me, being such a small breeder, it’s a huge achievement and something that I’m really proud of.”  – USA's Matt Coppola on Best Playing Pony MC Adele

Best Playing Pony MC Adele, played and owned by Matt Coppola. Presented by Gil Johnston and pictured with Facundo Force, Lucas Liendo, Agustin Paris and Bautista 'Bauti' Garcilazo.
Best Playing Pony MC Adele, played and owned by Matt Coppola. Presented by Gil Johnston and pictured with Facundo Force, Lucas Liendo, Agustin Paris and Bautista 'Bauti' Garcilazo.

Discussing how he was surprised by the honor, Coppola continued, “In such a great tournament, there’s a lot of really great horses on the field on both sides. So, when they came and said it was her, I was surprised. She played her heart out today and when I really need her, she always stands out, she's a horse I’ll always bank on. So, I’m really, really happy about it.”

A tournament rich in history and prestige, Beresford shared how meaningful it was to win. “It’s a historical tournament. We’re quite lucky because we have the Coronation Cup in England as well, so we get to play these types of games more often. But it’s great that the Westchester Cup is happening a little bit more now and we’re kind of getting that rivalry back up. These games are finals, anything can happen. But luckily, we were able to put up a performance today that gave us the win.”

USA's Jeff Hall hits the backshot alongside England's Max Charlton.
USA's Jeff Hall hits the backshot alongside England's Max Charlton.

Beim added, “There was a huge gap when it wasn’t played, but I luckily started when it started again when I was in my prime. Not sure if I’ll get another one! We’ll see when it gets replayed again. It’s nice—we spoke about that. It’s been going 140 years. To have your name with some of the greats, some of the American greats from back in the day, it’s nice.”

USA - Final Stats
England - Final Stats
Final Stats- England vs USA

*Matt Coppola, Nicolas 'Nico' Escobar and Jared Zenni are Team USPA alumni. Team USPA is a USPA program designed to enhance and grow the sport of polo in the United States by identifying young, talented American players and providing mentored training and playing opportunities leading to a pool of higher rated amateur and pro players and the resultant giveback to the sport of polo.

All photos courtesy of ©David Lominska.