The University Boat Race – a sporting event so posh it makes polo fans feel like Bovril drinking, steak and kidney pie munching riff-raff. It’s shamelessly elitist, and it couldn’t care less. You may never have the desire – or the budget – to get ‘Alexander Davidson’ printed across the back of your rowing vest and you may not be found chanting the no doubt factually accurate ‘there’s only one Constantine Louloudis, one Constantine Louloudis’ from the sidelines, but for about a quarter of an hour this afternoon, millions of eyes will be focused on a short stretch of the Thames.
It’s one of the institutions of the British sporting calendar and you can tell because it defies logic and is steeped in a mixture of nostalgia and voyeurism. For the other 364 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes of the year, we give rowing about as much attention as we do to what anyone on The Only Way Is Essex thinks about anything, but this afternoon, it will become the centre of attention for many people not normally arsed by the sport – along the lines of the Grand National, the Tour De France or any niche sport Great Britain suddenly and surprisingly get good at (yaaaay for curling!).
Thousands will line the river and millions will watch on from home as the Light Blues take on the Dark Blues, cheering on the side they’ve chosen due to affiliation or favourite shade of blue. As a contest, the event is in a phase of almost unrivaled parity. Rarely in the event’s history has the title gone back and forth so frequently. In the last fifteen years, Oxford have won it eight times to Cambridge’s seven, with never side winning it more than twice in a row over in that stretch, going against the traditional pattern of one university dominating for sustained periods.
This year, it’s Oxford who are the hot favourites for victory as they look to regain the bragging rights and close the overall gap to Cambridge. But the favourites have been bitten by the underdog in each of the last three races, so the Light Blues needn’t be too disheartened by their position as outsiders.
Last year’s race was disrupted by a protester making some futile point that clearly rocked the earth to its core. So much so we have no idea what it was 12 months later. He later confirmed he had “no regrets and would do it again” and with those moronic words in mind, Paddy Power are offering odds of 16/1 that someone will disturb precedings this year. The race eventually restarted and Cambridge claimed victory.
Six times in the history of the race has one of the boats sank and it’s 22/1 we see unlucky number seven today. Ten years have passed since the race has truly gone down to the wire. In 2003, Oxford prevailed by just one foot – a virtually microscopic distance in rowing terms. If you fancy another close one, it’s 11/5 Oxford to win by two and three-quarter lengths or less and 3/1 Cambridge to win by two and three-quarter lengths.
We may not be certain who’ll win it, but a thrilling contest is almost guaranteed. That and feeling like a pauper for about 20 minutes, even if you own several horses and half of Yorkshire.