In 1829 Oxford and Cambridge locked oars in the very first boat race. In 1856 the clash became an annual event and remains a firm favourite with sports fans, attracting around 250,000 spectators each year.
In 1872 the universities competed on the rugby field. The Varsity Match has become a yearly affair and takes place at Twickenham, the home of English Rugby.
In 2014 the latest sporting event between the two began, as Newmarket Racecourses hosted the inaugural Varsity Horse Race on the prestigious Dubai Future Champions Day. Qualified jockey coaches John Reid and Michael Tebbutt had put the teams through their paces in numerous coaching sessions up and down the country. Five students from each university, some with no previous riding experience, prepared meticulously for the one mile contest.
The victory for Kate Walters ensured that it was Cambridge who lifted the Bearsted Perpetual Challenge Trophy. Kate, who was in her final year at Newnham College, won the race on Ocean Applause, trained in Newmarket by John Ryan. Sweeping to the front a furlong out, she was followed home by Cambridge teammate Evie Hampson riding Phosphorescence.
The second running will take place on the Saturday of the Dubai Future Champions Festival, on October 10. James Alexander will be captaining the defending champions, while Alice Stables takes charge of Oxford. “Riding in last year’s race was incredible”, said Cambridge Captain, Alexander. “It was very nerve-racking, especially on the way to the start when at one point I thought that I might fall off, but once I got down to the start it was as if a switch had been flipped and I was able to concentrate on doing my thing.”
Speaking of the commitment needed for the event, he added: “The last few months have been pretty intense as I have been getting up at 5.30am to ride out in Newmarket and then rushing back to Cambridge in time for the start of the day. At times I have been doing 60-hour weeks at the Veterinary School on top of my training. Any Oxbridge student will tell you that in sporting terms the Varsity Match is the biggest thing. It will represent the pinnacle of my sporting career.”
Alice Stables, captain of the Oxford team, also spoke of her excitement as the event approached: “I am very excited about the Vision Varsity Horse Race and our team tactics are going to be simple – just win. A friend of mine was captain of the Oxford team last year and when I came along to support her it was the first time that I had ever set foot on a racecourse. I was blown away by the whole event – to be honest I was really jealous – and as soon as the e-mail was sent out earlier this year asking for competitors I was straight in there.”
All the riders are current students at Britain’s two most prestigious universities, with many jumping into the saddle for the first time when training began in the spring. Amy Starkey, Regional Director at Jockey Club Racecourses East Region, said: “Following the success of last year, the 2015 Vision Varsity Horse Race is set to be another great occasion, and will launch a fantastic afternoon on the second day of the Dubai Future Champions Festival.”