Punters will be hoping, quite literally, that they avoid that sinking feeling on Sunday when the Dark Blues of Oxford and the Light Blues of Cambridge do battle on the river Thames in the 163rd Boat Race.
Many a time have those who regularly battle with the bookies suffered from metaphorically taking in water when a bet has gone horribly wrong. This time around their investments could quite conceivably be wallowing in the wet stuff for real in the occasionally choppy waters of London’s major waterway.
Although any boat to sink is in at 30/1 and both boats to sink at 200/1, in truth, races affected by any submerging are rare, with only three results determined by a sinking – the last coming back in 1978. Then, Cambridge started to take in water as they came through Hammersmith before eventually taking an arch at Barnes Bridge to signify surrender.
While the rivalry between the two universities is well known to most those who work a little further down river – the front benches of the Houses of Parliament have long been populated with Oxbridge alumni – for most of us this is a parochial dust-up that we’ll never understand.
Make no mistake, though, there is some animosity between the two sets of rowers. When the crews assembled at the scales ahead of this year’s contest, the two strokes, Vasillis Ragoussis and Henry Meek, gave a good impression of boxers at a weigh in, with the pair eyeballing each other as if they were set to step into the ring.
There’s already been intense focus on William Warr, who’ll occupy the bow seat for Oxford. He’ll become only the third person to row for both universities in the contest when he dons the dark blue colours two years after previously turning out for a losing Cambridge crew.
Warr readily admits that there is no love lost between himself and his former team mates, revealing at a recent press conference ‘There’s definitely some ill-feeling there. Which is hard, because I was very close to these guys. And I don’t really speak to half of them at all now’. OK, it’s hardly Haye-Bellew, but the desire, focus and intensity is there.
Bettors looking for a late Sunday afternoon flutter on one crew or another don’t have to be as partisan as those either taking part or lining the four-mile, 374-yard route from Putney to Mortlake. And they are well catered for by Grosvenor Sport, with Oxford, who have won three of the last four races, odds-on favourites for an 80th victory overall at 2/5, and Cambridge outsiders for what would be their 83rd success. Unless we call the dead-heat the outsider at a triple-figure price, which I guess technically it is.
Officially, there has been one dead-heat – in 1877 – but Oxford were adamant they’d won, and there were rumours of John Phelps, the judge charged with the responsibility of calling the result in a tight contest, being drunk. That was probably untrue, but it’s still extremely unlikely that the two boats crossed the line exactly together. After that, actual winning posts were introduced and not surprisingly there hasn’t been a dead-heat since.
Cambridge weighed in as the heavier crew (a total of 747.6kg to Oxford’s 721.7kg) and that has recently been a key pointer to picking the winner – 10 of the last 15 successful boats have weighed more. And with Steve Trapmore, who won Olympic gold at Sydney 2000 as part of the British men’s eight, as coach of the Light Blues, it might just pay to side with the crew hoping to buck the trend of four consecutive winning favourites.
It should be a tight call, though, with Cambridge’s last four victories all less than five lengths with not bad odds at 9/5. And while I don’t except the record time of 16 minutes 19 seconds to be bettered, a good forecast with little wind should ensure a faster than usual time – and little chance of either boat descending into the murky depths of the Thames.