By Alex Webbe
Former English national team captain Luke Tomlinson framed Sunday’s match as the most exciting British Open final he had ever seen as the King Power Foxes (Tal Srivaddhanaprabha, Hugo Lewis, Gonzalito Pieres and Facundo Pieres) successfully defended their 2015 title by defeating La Indiana (Michael Bickford, Nic Roldan, Agustin Merlos and Julian De Lusarreta) 9-5.
Facundo Pieres opened the scoring with a 40-yard penalty conversion that was followed up by goals from the field from Hugo Lewis and Gonzalito Pieres for the early 3-0 lead. La Indiana got over the opening game jitters, however, and responded with goals from Agustin Merlos and Julian de Lusarreta to trail 3-2 after the opening chukker.
The teams continued to play a wide open brand of the game as the second period got underway. Long runs up and down the field were greeted with spectacular defensive efforts or shots that carried just wide of the goal. Facundo Pieres uncharacteristically missed on a 30-yard penalty attempt with de Lusarreta accounting for the only goal of the chukker. After two periods of play the core was all even at 3-3.
King Power fought back in the third with consecutive goals from Gonzalito Pieres and Facundo Pieres, 5-3. Lewis fouled Merlos deep in King Power territory resulting in a 30-yard penalty shot awarded to and converted by Merlos, 5-4. With time running out in the chukker, Merlos sent a long pass ahead to Nic Roldan who converted a near-side neck shot from an extreme angle to tie the game at 5-5 to end the first half.
King Power regrouped at halftime and went to work on controlling the throw-ins but in spite of a number of possessions, the La Indiana defense held. Both teams had missed scoring opportunities as they continued to press their horses and race from one end of the field to the other. The chukker ended without either team being able to convert and the score remained level at 5-5.
The pace of the game and the wear on the La Indiana horses began to show in the fifth. The King Power mounts seemed to have an extra step on their opponents with Gonzalito exploiting the advantage for a pair of goals. La Indiana was held scoreless for the second consecutive chukker and trailed, 7-5, with one chukker remaining in regulation play.
The final chukker was more of the same for La Indiana. Great effort but a little short on horsepower. Gonzalito Pieres scored his fifth and sixth goals of the day while La Indiana suffered through another scoreless chukker. The final bell sounded and the game went to the defending championship King Power team, 9-5.
Sarmiento, owned by Marcos de Paola and played by Facundo Pieres, earned Best Playing Pony honors with Facundo being selected as MVP. Interestingly enough, following the presentation of the MVP trophy to Facundo Pieres, he returned to his team and placed the trophy in front of older brother Gonzalito, who many felt earned the MVP recognition after his fifth and sixth chukker efforts.