The Westchester Cup
By Alex Webbe
As with any sport, competition at the highest level allows
the game to evolve to the next level, and the international
series between England and the United States is no different.
The initial series in 1886 featured an energetic American
team and a veteran British side. Captain
John Watson and his Hurlingham team not only
showed the Americans the benefits of superior horsepower,
but also the benefits of team play and discipline.
His introduction of the backhander to the game revolutionized
polo, as the Americans had never seen it used before, and
his sending the No. 1 against the opposing back and leaving
the ball for the No. 2 and No. 3, was a strategy the young
Americans had never considered.
In Newell Bent’s American Polo (The Macmillan Company,
1929), he reports that the “American ponies were
excellent in some respects, resembling the Maltese barbs that
came as polo ponies to England, only bigger and stronger and
faster, and quite as handy.”
But as handy as these American mounts might have been, they
were outclassed by the speed of their British counterparts.
In 1886 the American matches consisted of three 20-minute
chukkers with a 10-minute intermission between each period.
There was also allotted a two-minute rest between scores.
For the opening of the game, the ball was placed at the center
of the grounds and a selected player from each side would
race to the center to take control of the ball.
The opening ball was captured by 17-year-old Foxhall
Keene, who carried it the length of the field
and scored with but 24 seconds gone. The band struck up Yankee
Doodle, and the partisan crowd cheered, but the match had
just begun. From that time on, the play began in the middle
of the field following a goal, and the British team took every
advantage of their individual and team responsibilities.
F. Gray Griswold did a good job summarizing the first series
in his book (The International Polo Cup Duttons, New York,
1928) when he wrote:
“The Americans played brilliant individual polo,
but with little system or team-play. Against this the British
passed the ball to one another, sacrificing individual to
team-play and skillfully backhanded the ball. This play nonplussed
the Americans, so that the Englishmen had little difficulty
in winning the cup.”
It wasn’t until 1902 when a challenge was made to win
back the Westchester Cup, though the sentiment was heavily
in favor of a quicker response. Newell Bent writes:
“In 1900 four of our players, Mr. W. McCreery,
Mr. F. J. Mackey, Mr. Foxhall P. Keene, and Mr. L. McCreery,
played a more or less informal match against the Hurlingham
team of Captain Hon. J.G.H.H. Beresford, Mr. F. M. Freake,
Mr. W. S. Buckmaster, and Mr. John Watson, and were beaten
8-2, but the event has never been recognized as an international
match for the cup. It was not until 1902 that a challenge
was sent to England and Mr. Foxhall P. Keene, captain and
No. 3, together with Mr. J. E. Cowdin, Mr. J. M. Waterbury,
Jr., Mr. L. Waterbury, and Mr. R. L. Agassiz went over, a
team developed really at the Rockaway Club, with Mr. Agassiz
from the Myopia Club near Boston.”
This second series was comprised of games of six ten-minute
periods. The opening game resulted in a surprisingly narrow
2-1 victory by the United States, the first American victory
in the cup’s short history. Coverage of the match reported
that there seemed to be no difference between the mounts of
the two teams and noted that the British executed poorly around
the American goal.
Heavy rains delayed the second game by a couple of days,
and it seemed that was all the British needed to regroup.
The first match had caused a great deal of excitement and
concern in that the Americans had managed to hold the British
four to a single goal. A reshuffled lineup seemed to be the
cure as England bounced back to score consecutive 6-1 and
After the return of the US team, John
Cowdin wrote an article in Outing magazine
in which he described the superiority of the British horses.
He also conceded that when the British players got away with
the ball, they were much faster than the American mounts.
“So much faster,” he conceded, “that
we could never catch up."
Although Cowdin pointed out that the American horses turned
quicker, the hard ride-offs by the British proved to be a
very important part of their play. He also stressed the “invariable
and consummate position play” of the British team.
The British won again, but the Americans had learned the
importance of horses, knowledge of the game and team play.
The emergence of Harry
Payne Whitney on the American polo scene
cannot be underestimated. It was his understanding of the
strengths of the British and the weaknesses of the American
team that sent him on his mission to reclaim the Westchester
In 1905 Whitney began purchasing the top polo mounts that
could be found, regardless of price. Not only was he assembling
horses in the United States, but in England as well. In fact,
so thorough was his assembling of this top team of horses
that top English internationalists Buckmaster and Freake couldn’t
resist the money being offered for their top mounts, and in
selling them to Whitney’s agents, found themselves short
of horses to defend the international cup.
The Americans arrived in England months in advance and began
playing and practicing. The reputation of the horses gathered
by Whitney had already alarmed those in charge of defending
the challenge, but no little notice was made of the American’s
advancement in the area of team play, a fact that was evident
from the very first minute of play.
The New York Times headline read “Visitors’
Superiority Overwhelmed English Cup Defenders After Milburn’s
First Goal”, and so went the series.
It was the British back, John Watson, who schooled the Americans
on the backhander and team play, but America’s Devereux
Milburn virtually reinvented the position
of back. Operating in a team-oriented attack that allowed
for the back to carry the ball through the lineup and score,
the Americans had turned the tables on the British. Just as
Watson had caused confusion with his backhander in the 1886
match, Milburn introduced the British to the nearside backhand
shot, much to their consternation.
The back position had traditionally been one of positioning
in the area of one’s own goal, but the play of Milburn
turned the defense into offense, and seemingly brought another
offensive weapon onto the field.
The team handily defeated the Brits in straight matches,
9-5 and 8-2 and returned the Westchester Cup to America for
the first time in twenty-three years. More importantly, the
Americans had wrested world polo supremacy from the British
while unveiling the first international appearance of a United
States team who would come to be known as the “Big Four”.
With the victory of the Americans, so the game changed again.
The back lost its designation as a mere defensive position,
and the introduction of the nearside backhand shot armed players
with yet another weapon on the field. The intermeshing of
players on the field was also accented by the offensive play
of the No. 1. No longer thought of as a player whose only
job it was to clear the way for trailing teammates, the No.
1 was expected to not only provide interference, but to having
the option of carrying the ball and scoring as well. A new
attack, a revolutionary back, and the game continued to get
faster and more fluid.
The British waited less than a year before challenging for
the cup again. Unfortunate delays caused plans for a 1910
series to be cancelled, but no little effort went in to preparing
for the 1911 crusade.
In preparation for the series, the British had suspended
the offside rule (the challenging team had to play under the
rules of the defenders) for some time to prepare for the Americans,
and in so doing, found the game greatly improved and never
reinstated it again.
For the first time, the international matches were played
in eight periods of seven and one-half minutes each, and the
Big Four were faced with a formidable foe. Under the leadership
of Captain J. Hardress Lloyd, six players were sent to America
with thirty-five top polo mounts. Joining Lloyd on the field
for the games would be Captain L. St. C. Cheape at No. 1;
Captain A. Noel Edwards at No. 2; and Captain Herbert H. Wilson
Early practice games did not go well for the British, and
the Big Four remained intact and were playing better than
The opening match saw a radical change in performances as
it was the British who seemed to be pressing the attack in
an effort to win and the American four fought to hold on to
the small lead they had gathered. America managed to defend
the cup successfully but the narrow margins of victory, 4½
-2¾ and 4½ to 3½ were hardly the scores
expected from the Big Four.
A greatly improved British team gathered momentum in every
chukker, and despite the losses, they found the Americans
to be vulnerable.
Much encouraged by the showing of her team in 1911, England
returned two years later, through the efforts of the Duke
of Westminster. The Duke took no half measures in procuring
forty-two of the finest ponies available, and failing the
services of Walter Buckmaster (suffered a bad fall in the
spring), recruited Captain R. G. Ritson to lead the team of
Captain L. St. C. Cheape, Captain A. N. Edwards, Captain Vivian
Lockett and F. M. Freake.
The Big Four, the team that had never been beaten in international
competition, was prepared to defend the trophy, but had been
playing badly together, and Whitney resigned the American
captaincy. With him went the Waterbury brothers and another
team had to be assembled. Under the leadership of Foxhall
Keene, a team that included Malcolm Stevenson, Louis Stoddard
and Devereux Milburn was preparing to play. four days before
the first game, however, Keene took a fall and broke his collarbone,
and the Big Four were called upon one more time.
The success of the team was again credited to Harry Payne
Whitney and his leadership on the field. Milburn’s play
was again, outstanding.
The series was the closest ever played, with America scoring
wins of 5½-3 and 4½-4¼. In spite of their
success, this would be the last time the Big Four would play
together. Before the end of the first game, Monte Waterbury
suffered a broken finger and was replaced by Louis Stoddard.
The Big Four won the series and retired undefeated.
Following two of the closest contest in recent Westchester
Cup history, the British were eager to have another go at
it, but were having trouble getting a competitive team together.
Lord Wimborne made an initial bid to put a team together,
but the team proved to be too weak.
Subsequently, both Lord Wodehouse and Captain Cheape were
invited to play on the team, but both declined. Major C. F.
Hunter took his name off the list when his ailing wife required
his presence in England, making him unavailable to travel.
The Polo Association in America offered to delay the matches
by two weeks in an effort to give the Brits more time to assemble
a team when Sir Douglas Haig stepped forward. Through his
influence, he convinced Cheape to join the cause. Captain
H. A. Tomkinson was also acquired. When another prospect,
Captain Bingham dropped out, Capt. Vivian Lockett and John
A. Traill joined the effort, and England finally felt
it had a competitive team.
Things weren’t particularly rosy on this side of the
Atlantic either. The retirement of Harry Payne Whitney left
a large hole in the polo leadership, as it, in effect, broke
up the Big Four.
The past services of Devereux Milburn were noted, referring
to his ability to change places with Whitney at a moment’s
notice on the attack. It was decided to move him to the No.
3 position. Rene LaMontagne assumed the No. 1 position. Monte
Waterbury took the No.2 position and brother Lawrence Waterbury
played back. The experiment didn’t work. The British
won the first game 8½ -3.
The Americans attempted to rectify their mistake by moving
Milburn to his familiar back position and moving Lawrence
Waterbury to No.3, with little more success. The Brits scored
a 4-2¾. The cup returned to England, and with the coming
war, it would be seven years before the international series
It wasn’t until 1921 that the Hurlingham accepted the
challenge by the Polo Association, and went about assembling
a veteran team of Lt. Col. H. A. Tomkinson, Maj. F. W. Barrett,
Lord Wodehouse and Maj. Vivian Lockett.
The United States finally settled on veterans Louis Stoddard
at No. 1 and Devereux Milburn at back. Tommy
Hitchcock, Jr. and J.
Watson Webb took the No. 2 and No. 3 positions
The Americans cruised to 11-4 and 10-6 victories, dashing
the high hopes of the British and returning the Westchester
Cup to the United States.
The British were stunned by the long hitting from both Milburn
and Hitchcock, while the accurate hitting of Stoddard and
Webb made the Americans attack a constant threat.
The Polo Association received a challenge from the British
in 1924, and a group of players and horses under the sponsorship
of Lord Wimborne arrived in the summer for September cup play.
F. Gray Griswold recalls in his book The International Polo
Cup (Duttons, New York, 1928) that the British brought too
much talent with them and had difficulty sorting it out. The
final lineup included Major T. W. Kirkwood, Major F. B. Hurndall,
Major E. G. Atkinson and Captain
Lewis Lacey, whose Canadian birth and citizenship
qualified him for the team. Although he tore a ligament in
his shoulder in their first practice in America, Lacey proved
to be the strength of the British team.
The American combination of J. Watson Webb, Tommy Hitchcock,
Jr., Malcolm Stevenson and Devereux Milburn, however, proved
to be too much for the Brits. The Americans took the first
match in a convincing 16-5 rout of the visitors, with Lacey
scoring four of the British goals from his back position..
A fall and injury to Stevenson brought Robert E. Strawbridge
into the last chukker of the first game, but the US players
never missed a beat. The stickwork of Webb and Hitchcock at
the front end of the lineup and the interchanging play of
Milburn and Stevenson/Strawbridge overwhelmed their opponents
as the United States swept the series with a 14-5 win in the
Stevenson was commended for his play. Webb and Hitchcock
continued to impress their opponents with their long and accurate
hitting, and Milburn continued to command the team through
his actions and directions on the field. Newell Bent noted
that “Our 1924 team was one of the greatest ever seen
on any field”.
Another challenge was extended to the Polo Association by
Hurlingham in 1927, but due to the pressure brought upon it
by the Army in India Association, the whole matter of collecting
funds, gathering the horses and organizing the team was left
to them. The level of polo in India was considered to be the
best in the British Empire, and with the financial support
of the Maharajah of Jodpur and the Maharajah of Ratlam, all
of the necessary pieces were drawn together.
For the second consecutive time, however, it was felt that
the British effort had gathered too much talent, as they had
a hard time assessing it and selecting the final team. The
final lineup was settled at Captain Claude E. Pert, Major
Austin H. Williams, Captain C. T. I. Roark and Major E. G.
Atkinson at back.
After an attempt to rebuild a competitive US team, it was
finally decided to return the successful team of 1924 to the
field, and it was to their credit they did.
The attack of Webb and Hitchcock was at its acme, and the
interchanging of positions by Milburn and Stevenson was as
smooth as silk. America jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and
never looked back. The final score was United States 13, England 3, and the opponent was severely shaken.
In an effort to regroup, the British replaced Captain Pert
and Major Williams with Captain George and Captain Dening.
The combination performed much better, but in the end it would
be America scoring an 8-5 win and securing the Westchester
Cup for the third consecutive time.
For their efforts, the British were credited with bringing
one of the most competitive teams in years to play for the
cup, but the results were the same.
“The International matches of 1930, between the United
States and England, provided the greatest crowds ever
to watch polo with two thrilling and spectacular games. On
September 6 and 10, two amazing crowds traveled to Meadow
Brook-by plane, train, motor, foot; to the first game 45,000,
and to the second nearly as many, 40,000” wrote Peter
Visher of POLO magazine.
The United States selected Californian Eric
Pedley to play the No.1 position. Earl Hopping
settled in at the No. 2 spot with team captain Tommy Hitchcock
Philosophy) residing in his familiar No.
3 slot. The hard-hitting Winston Guest anchored the team at
back, but he would prove to be nothing like England’s
idea of a defensive back. Harry Payne Whitney had reinvented
the back position, and Guest, a natural No. 2 would make full
use of that makeover. The offensive-minded Americans were
all attack oriented, and lengthy practices at speed had both
the players and their horses ready to play.
The shortcoming of the British team, in retrospect, the fact
that they only had one true offensive-minded player on the
team in Gerald Balding, and he rarely got the ball. The brilliant
Lewis Lacey played back at an international level, but was
asked to play No. 2. with Captain C. T. I. Roark (another
back by disposition) played No. 3. Occasional runs from the
back position by Humphrey Guinness were the only sparks of
offense that seemed to give the Brits a glimmer of hope as
they fell in straight games 10-5 and 14-9.
Pedley played brilliantly for the United States, scoring
five goals in the first game and nine goals in the second,
converting on half of his shots on goal in the process.
Lewis Lacey was the bright spot for the British, in spite
of playing out of position. He accounted for half of the team’s
total goals in the series while making impressive plays on
both offense and defense.
This 1936 series marked the first time the cup would be played
for under the new regulation governing these matches, calling
for “play in alternate countries regardless of which
happens to be holding the trophy at the time of challenge.”
England challenged and the US accepted, agreeing to
go to England for the June games.
The British fielded the competitive team of Hesketh Hughes,
Gerald Balding, Eric Tyrell-Martin and Captain H. P. Guinness,
losing the valued services of top Indian player Hanut Singh
to a shoulder injury in an accident before the cup competition.
Their hopes were high, with the return of three experienced
international players, and Hughes was thought to be a good
choice at the front end of the lineup.
For the Americans, 10-goaler Tommy Hitchcock, Jr. was unable
to arrange his schedule to allow him to go, and a team of
Eric Pedley, Michael Phipps, Stewart Iglehart and Winston
Guest were selected to play.
The matches consisted of seven chukkers of play, as dictated
by the host country, and the Westchester Cup remained secure
in the hands of the Americans once again.
In both contests the Americans took early leads, and despite
the persistence of the British players, were able to hold
on for the wins.
The first match was tied no less than three times as England fought to stay in the game, but the Americans never
gave up the lead. In the second game England fell behind
early, but rallied to stay in the game, trailing 7-6 after
the sixth chukker.
The Americans were a decided favorite, but their combined
margin of victory was a scant three goals (10-9 and 8-6).
While the British were trying to sort out their lineup in
practice matches in California, Captain C. T. I. Roark was
fatally injured during a practice game. A veteran player and
a veteran of the American game, both his playing talents and
his veteran experience were lost. Shortly thereafter, Major
N. W. Leaf, a veteran player who had been in charge of the
ponies died. Balding was forced to assume the positions of
both the team captain and seeing to the horses.
The British finally settled on a lineup of Robert
Skene at No. 1, Aiden Roark at No. 2, Gerald
Balding at No. 3 and Eric Tyrell-Martin at back. The team
arrived with a cumulative handicap of 30-goals, and had a
Herculean task ahead of it.
The Americans had been organizing for the International series
for months. The prospects of fielding the first 40-goal team
in polo history in the form of the
Dream Team was shattered, however, when Cecil
Smith was injured just weeks before the competition. Hitchcock,
Iglehart and Phipps quickly brought 9-goaler Winston Guest
into the lineup.
The opening game was played on heavy grounds as threatening
rainstorms cleared for the afternoon match. The US scored
early and save for a 3-3 tie in the third chukker, held the
lead throughout the day.
The British closed to within a goal at halftime, 6-5, but
were shut out for the next three chukkers as the Americans
built up a 10-5 lead.
Balding converted a penalty shot in the eighth chukker, his
third of the day, followed by a goal from Roark, but the day
was over. Phipps scored on a pass from Hitchcock to give the
United States an opening 11-7 victory.
The second match saw a similar pattern of play as the better
conditioned American players and horses held the lead and
then rode off with the win in the last few chukkers. Observers
noted that the British looked all in after the sixth chukker
while the Americans, working under the command of Hitchcock,
were fresh and ready to play.
The British trailed 4-2 at halftime, but found themselves
behind 9-3 at the end of the seventh chukker. A final goal
from Tyrell-Martin ended the game with England on the
short end of the 9-4 score.
The revival of the Westchester Cup in 1992 was a welcome
addition to the international calendar, and in spite of its
one-game format, proved to be the closest, most exciting Westchester
game since Harry Payne Whitney and the Big Four invaded England
in 1909 to reclaim the trophy.
John Gobin, Adam Snow, Owen Rinehart and Rob Walton represented
the United States, while the British called upon New Zealand
8-goaler Cody Forsyth to bolster a team that included William
Lucas, Alan Kent and the powerful Howard Hipwood.
Opening play was tenuous, but by the end of the third chukker
all 25,000 in attendance at Windsor Park that day were adding
to the growing tension as horses and riders raced up and down
England led 5-4 at the end of the first half with Hipwood’s
powerful backhand shots keeping the pressure on the American
defense and turning aside a number of US drives.
Lucas and Snow exchanged goals in the opening minutes of
the fourth chukker when Hipwood’s horse Baston suffered
a fall. A five-minute delay allowed for the exhausted horse
to regain itself and leave the field.
The United States managed to tie the game at 6-6 on a goal
from John Gobin off of the backline, and the chukker ended.
“There’s something about playing for your country
that raises your abilities to their peak,” said Gobin.
“This was the real deal,” he added, “it
doesn’t get any better than this.”
After getting pushed around in the first half by Britain’s
Howard Hipwood, Gobin fought back.
“He is the toughest player I have ever played against,”
said Gobin. “He rode me off so hard my teeth rattled.”
But Gobin had now become the aggressor, and Hipwood’s
substantial contributions to the British side were being limited.
Owen Rinehart scored the only goal of the fifth chukker on
a pass from Walton, and the United States led 7-6 as time
The teams played evenly into the sixth chukker when Hipwood
took advantage of a point-of-the-foul free hit from an extreme
angle some 90 yards from goal. A well-placed ball was scooped
up by Alan Kent, and with three minutes to play, the score
was all even at 7-7.
A scoreless overtime was followed by another overtime when
Rinehart drove the ball toward the British goal. His shot
at goal was drifting wide when a galloping John Gobin showed
up to take an offside backhand, putting the ball through the
goal and securing the Westchester Cup for the United States
“It just kept getting louder and louder as the game
went on,” said Gobin in retrospect, “you really
don’t need any more motivation than that to play at
After 76 years of frustration, England finally regained
possession of the Westchester Cup in a one game, 12-9 win
over the United States that would end a losing streak that
dated back to 1921.
Early money was on the Americans who featured 10-goalers
Mike Azzaro and the legendary Memo Gracida in its lineup.
Isla Carroll patron John Goodman and young 7-goaler Julio
Arellano rounded out the team, but the horses ended up being
the issue. Gracida and Goodman had just won the Queens Cup
and lost in the finals of the British Open. A tired string
of American horses arrived at the field for the match.
American coach Joe Barry was quick to tell anyone who would
listen that “as great as our ponies are, there is a
limit as to how long they can remain in peak condition.”
British team captain Howard Hipwood, assembled New Zealand
8-goaler Cody Forsyth and six-goalers William Lucas and Andrew
Hine for the British side. Lucas and Forsyth had played with
Hipwood in the hotly contested 1992 Westchester Cup match,
and Hipwood felt the team chemistry and availability of horses
(up to a day before the match the British team was receiving
the offer of horses from a dozen top strings) might give them
Over 25,000 spectators were on hand for Cartier International
Day at the Guards Polo Club, and it didn’t start out
well for the home team. Although Will Lucas scored the first
goal of the game, three goals from Gracida had the United
States up 3-1 at the end of the first chukker, with many of
the spectators seeing a repeat of the 1992 results.
England rallied in the second period, however, with
two goals from Cody Forsyth on penalty shots and another goal
from Lucas. Two chukkers were down and the American play was
ragged and inconsistent as they trailed 4-3.
The superiority of the British horses in the third chukker
was the telling difference as the American string was slow
and sluggish. The fresh and rested British string gave them
a distinct advantage as they outscored the United States 5-0
for a commanding 9-3 lead at the end of the first half.
US coach Joe Barry moved Azzaro to Back and Goodman to Number
1 in an effort to shake up the lineup, but in spite of an
early goal by Azzaro, the chukker ended with the British holding
a 10-4 advantage.
Gracida converted a penalty shot that was countered by another
goal from Lucas. Gracida scored another from the field, and
Azzaro added his second of the game, but England held
a comfortable 11-7 lead.
Forsyth scored his fourth goal of the game early in the final
chukker to ice the game. Gracida converted two penalty shots
for the final 12-9 score, and England had scored its
first Westchester Cup victory since 1914.
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