DUBAI // Habtoor Polo and Bin Drai Polo clash in a meeting of two of the UAE's oldest polo-playing families in the final of the Dubai Gold Cup on Friday afternoon.
Both sides emerged as the best from the preliminary stages of the six-team open tournament held at Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club over the past two weeks.
Although both made the final, neither Habtoor Polo nor Bin Drai Polo reached the tournament's last stages unscathed.
Habtoor Polo was defeated by Ghantoot in a 6-5 encounter in the group games, and Bin Drai Polo came off worst when they faced today's opponents, Habtoor, exactly a week ago in a 6-3 loss.
Nico Petracci, Bin Drai's Argentine professional, said his side would not be repeating the mistakes of their first clash with Habtoor.
"We have been watching the video of that match very closely and taking notes," said the four-goal handicapper. "We can see exactly where we went wrong and what changes we have to make. We have been playing consistently well this season and we are confident ahead of this match."
Mohammed al Habtoor, the patron of Habtoor Polo, said his side does not plan major changes.
“Sometimes the only difference is luck,” he said. “But I can say that we are planning some tactics for the game tomorrow, but to be honest we are not changing too much. What we have been doing has been working very well.
“In polo everything can change in a second, but we will be fighting in every way we can to win the Gold Cup. We have good ponies, good players and we are playing at our home ground.”
Bin Drai have found their form having won the Cartier Polo tournament earlier in the year.
"We have been improving with every game, but we just made a few mistakes and had a few decisions go against us in our match with Habtoor," Petracci said. "In every match since that one we learnt from our mistakes and have been playing much better. And to be honest, the game should have been far closer than 6-3.
"We don't believe that we played badly in that game but now we are very confident that we are playing some very good polo and actually that loss has really given us an incentive to find the cracks in our game and fix them."
Petracci said his patron, Saeed bin Drai, the son of Humaid bin Drai, who is credited with bringing polo to the UAE, could not play because of an injury and will be out of action for a number of weeks.
Bin Drai also may be forced to miss the forthcoming HH President's Polo Cup at Ghantoot Racing & Polo Club later this month.
But an element in the team's favour is the fact that their ponies are fresh.
"During the match with Habtoor we just got the feeling that the ponies were a little stale and a little tired," said Petracci. "But luckily we did not have to push them too hard in our other matches, and I really feel like they are going better, are a little sharper now and a little bit more fresh."
The Gold Cup, a 15-goal event, saw Abu Dhabi Polo and Ghantoot Racing & Polo Club represent the capital while the Dubai teams included Mahra Polo, Bin Drai Polo and Habtoor Polo. Zedan Polo represented Saudi Arabia.
The Gold Polo Cup, the most prestigious open tournament of the year so far, has been growing in stature since it began in 2010.
And in the close-knit world of UAE polo, the tournament has seen a number of clashes between family members and renewals of old rivalries.
Abu Dhabi Polo, the 2011 Gold Cup champions, were unable to replicate their form of last year in this tournament despite winning the Silver Cup final against Zedan in February.
And Ghantoot, who won the Gold Cup subsidiary final last year, were also unable to make their mark this tournament.
They will be looking for improvement in front of their home crowd when they host the President's Cup next week, which will feature all the same teams plus two more.
Meanwhile, Mohammed Al Habtoor, the patron of Habtoor Polo, played against his brother, Rashid Al Habtoor, who fielded the Mahra Polo Team.
Next season Saeed bin Drai has plans to expand the Diamond Polo Cup, a tournament that he launched at the start of 2012, to become a series of mini-tournaments aimed at preparing teams for the open season.
"The standard of polo is already very competitive here and we have seen improvements over the years, but the more open tournaments that we have in Dubai the more we can progress," Petracci said. "We are beginning to see a proper season of open polo develop and that is exactly what we need in the UAE.
This season Dubai has hosted Adolfo Cambiaso, the highest-rated polo player in the world and the Novillo-Astrada brothers, a famous Argentine Open polo family.