The Boat Race is a world famous annual rowing race between the boat clubs of two of the world’s top universities, Oxford and Cambridge, along a four-and-a-quarter-mile stretch of the River Thames from Putney to Mortlake.
Even though the Boat Race is seen in some quarters as an elitist sports event, an estimated quarter of a million people line the river banks to watch the Dark Blues take on the Light Blues, while millions more watch it on television.
The first Boat Race took place in 1829 and Oxford won it by the official margin of easily. The contest has been staged annually since 1856, with the only breaks coming during World War One and World War Two. Cambridge dominated the 2012 Boat Race to extend its series lead to 81-76.
Many famous names have competed in the Boat Race. Perhaps the best known is Hugh Laurie, the British comedian turned actor who has won two Golden Globe Awards and two Screen Actors Guild Awards for his role in television hit House. Laurie was a member of Cambridge’s defeated crew in 1980.
Four-time Olympic Games gold medallist Matthew Pinsent is an Oxford man through and through, helping the Dark Blues to win in 1990 and 1991. Pinsent was Oxford’s president in 1993 but, fresh from winning his first Olympic Games gold medal alongside Steve Redgrave, he ended up on the losing team.
Most Facebook users will be familiar with the Winklevoss twins, Cameron and Tyler, made internationally famous by Hollywood movie The Social Network. The brothers rowed in Oxford’s unsuccessful 2010 boat. At least they had the small matter of $50 million to ease the pain of their defeat.
The days of bookmakers only betting on the result of the Boat Race are ancient history. Now there are upwards of 10 markets on the event, including odds on the winning margin, winning time and the starting stations of the two crews.
Oxford is the hot favourite to win the 2013 Boat Race, with the Dark Blues trading at odds of around 4-9. Cambridge is available at odds of around 15-8, while the draw is in three-figures territory and justifiably so. There has been only one Boat Race dead heat and even today the 1877 tie is the subject of considerable controversy between the two great seats of learning. Legend in Oxford has it that the judge, John Phelps, was asleep when the race finished.
Bookmakers are favouring Oxford strongly because its premier boat was five seconds faster than Cambridge’s equivalent in November 2012’s Head of the River Fours and last month the Dark Blues beat the University of London while the Light Blues went down to the University of Washington.
Rowing analysts believe that Oxford’s eight is superior to that of Cambridge – they are raving about the Dark Blues stern pairing of Malcolm Howard and Constantine Louloudis – and that the slightly heavier Oxford crew will make amends for flopping in last year’s heavily interrupted Boat Race.
Incidentally, the lighter crew has won the last two Boat Races, although the head-to-head record over the last 10 years favours the bigger boned rowers by six wins to four.
Blow-out Boat Race margins are commonplace, with four of the last five and six of the last nine editions being won by at least three and a half lengths. If one is looking for an odds-against way to get with the 2013 Boat Race favourite, Oxford is trading at odds of around 6-5 to beat Cambridge by three or more lengths. Recent form points to that outcome.
It makes sense to delay betting on the Boat Race until as late as possible and certainly not before the presidents of Oxford and Cambridge take part in the ceremonial coin toss to determine the starting stations of the two crews.
The Boat Race course is not a fair one insomuch that it is impossible for both teams to cover the same distance because of the way in which the River Thames meanders through London. And the conventional wisdom is that the Surrey station is more advantageous than the Middlesex station.
While Surrey station starters have won only two of the last half a dozen Boat Race contests, the president who has won the toss has chosen the Surrey station in each of the last seven years. Cambridge opted for the Middlesex station in 2005 and Oxford crossed the finish line two lengths clear.