Two Americans, an Argentine, and an Australian walk on to a field… no, this is not the start of a bad joke, this is the United Kingdom season being dominated once again by a truly international team led by fearless American polo pioneer Michael Bickford. La Indiana have had a stellar few years and with a last-minute win against Park Place in the Cartier Queen’s Cup Final on Sunday, June 10, they have finally managed to put the cherry on top of the cake that has seen them in four out of five of the U.K. high-goal finals in the last three years.
Growing up in Connecticut and having learned to play polo in Vermont, The Royal County of Berkshire Polo Club in England is where American sponsor Michael Bickford’s passion for polo turned from hobby to pure obsession. Residing in the U.K. for 19 years, it is there that Michael and his La Indiana team have shone for the last three years, this year finding themselves in their third consecutive Queen’s Cup Final. While his organization in the United States continues to grow as he competes in the high goal and has built a beautiful new farm in Wellington, Florida, he is much more established in the U.K. and the English season, and is a familiar face around Guards and Cowdray Park Polo Clubs.
The Cartier Queen’s Cup is the first of the two biggest and most prestigious tournaments of the U.K. season and the American power duo of Nic Roldan and Michael Bickford have been the stars of the show since 2016 when they shot to unprecedented success after beating out tournament favorites King Power in the semifinals. Now favorites themselves, the two have remained at the top of their game creating teams around their successful dynamic to reach ever better and brighter heights. They have narrowly missed out on Queen’s Cup glory for the past two years, losing by one goal both times to Adolfo Cambiaso’s Dubai side in 2016 and his RH side in 2017. This year with the help of the world ranked number two and all-round polo hero, Facundo Pieres at back and Australian young gun and 4-goal ringer Alec White playing the number two position, they finally managed to seal the deal and take home the coveted Cartier Queen’s Cup trophy. Presented by HM Queen Elizabeth, on the Queen’s Ground of Guards Polo Club in the grounds of Windsor Great Park, the Queen’s Cup symbolizes the epitome of British polo and tradition.
The USPA spoke to La Indiana stalwart and American polo star Nic Roldan about his role in the American powered team and their journey to Queen’s Cup victory.
La Indiana’s Journey
“Michael played the Prince of Wales four years ago and that’s when his love of high-goal polo really started. Three years ago he started properly and we played the full English season, getting to both finals and now here we are in year three. I’d known Michael before but had never played with him. The journey with the team has been incredible. It’s a lot of fun to play with Michael and to play for the organization. The amount of time and effort he puts in to planning the English season is incredible. As most people know, it’s not easy to become as competitive as La Indiana has been. He’s probably one of the best sponsors out there. He’s strong on the field, he’s super well mounted and he knows what it takes to be a competitive team, and that’s investing in horses and in players and creating the right teams. He’s done a really good job. He’s three years in and this was his fourth final. Which is pretty impressive. I’ve been lucky enough to be on that train for the ride. He had faith in me and it’s been a lot of fun. I feel very comfortable in this organization.”
The road to the Final
“It’s been a hell of a journey. We had been at the finals stage before so this year we knew what we had to do. We knew Park Place was going to be a really tough team and we’d had a tough semifinal so we were super focused and ready. Having Facundo on the team this year has been incredible. He’s been an unbelievable teammate. This is my first time playing with him and the same for Michael. It took us a little bit of time in the beginning to find ourselves, find our positions and find our duties on the field, but it’s been good—work and time has certainly paid off. Our coach Hector Guerrero has been great and it’s his first time working with Facundo as well so this was a clean canvas for us. Michael and I know each other obviously, but then we’ve got Alec so we had to find his comfortable position on the field too. I wouldn’t say we clicked right off the bat, but I feel like the team has been getting better and more comfortable every game.”
“The match was really tough. From the first minute, we knew it was going to be physical and until the last bell it was anyone’s game. Park Place are incredibly tough and a top organization, but we stuck to our plan. We did change a few things around at half time and it really made a difference. A lot of hard work, dedication and heart was put into it. This year was the toughest year to win I think. All the teams are very good which makes it that much more special to have lifted the trophy. I am so happy for La Indiana, for Michael and Paula and to all the grooms, trainers, coaches and vets who put all the time and effort in to this. Without them we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s a huge team effort!”
“My organization in the States keeps getting better and better, but it’s also pretty good in England. I have a very good string of horses. I have a base of eight horses here, so instead of having to bring a whole bunch of horses each season I can pick and choose the best ones. This year I didn’t bring any over to England because Facundo brought in 12 horses for the team and Michael’s helping me out, so we’re good on horses. That’s how teams win. You need a depth of horses.”
The Gold Cup
“There are 12 teams in the Gold Cup. It wasn’t easy to get to the Queen’s Cup podium and I think this has been the hardest year and it will be no different for the Gold Cup. The teams are all strong. Everyone’s super well mounted and the competition has been tough. In the Queen’s Cup we had a tricky bracket. Every game meant a lot and a lot of the best teams were on our side. The Gold Cup will be just as hard.”
The English Season
“This is my seventh year being here and I love it. I had done three seasons before La Indiana. No Americans come over really. I put my head down and decided I wanted to come over. I took a bit of a hit the first couple of years which is normal because it is tough to start, but once you’re in and you’re established and people see you and respect the way you play then the jobs start coming.”
The Westchester Cup
“It’s a hell of a summer. We’ve got a great team and it’s going to be a lot of fun. This will be my third time playing and hopefully this time we will take the trophy home with us. I’m so pleased that we’re doing it. It’s great the two associations have agreed upon getting it played again. Historically it’s one of the oldest and most important tournaments in the world so it will be a great day.”
“This year I’m actually playing the Argentine Open with La Albertina with Cubi Toccalino, Alfredo Capella and Francisco Elizalde. It’s so exciting. I have a great set up for horses with an older player so I should have a great organization out there.”
All photos courtesy of ©Helen Cruden