Varsity history is littered with tales of students horsing around. Now the thoroughbred brains from the Cambridge and Oxford stables really have the bit between their teeth. The latest university challenge will be on horseback.
The bolting Blues are saddling up for the first ever Varsity horse race – over the flat at Newmarket in October.
The universities have been in sporting competition since the first Boat Race in 1829 and also do battle in soccer and both codes of rugby but have never met on the racecourse despite boasting active equestrian clubs.
Five riders from each university will don racing colours in the distinctive blues. Seven from each are undergoing training – the Cambridge ‘Jocks’ at Newmarket’s British Racing School and Oxford’s at Oaksey House in Lambourn – to prepare for the rigours of riding over eight furlongs at the Rowley Mile Course on October 17. Final teams will be unveiled in early October.
The Oxbridge challenge will be the last on a high quality card of seven top-class races as part of Dubai Future Champions Day at the HQ of horseracing.
Student Harry Beckett, who conceived the idea, said: “I’ve spent two years trying to get this race off the ground so I'm delighted to see it come to fruition. I sincerely hope that this is just the start of a real connection between racecourses and students, as there is a real need for more sustainable investment. Fingers crossed it will become an annual event, enabling riders to qualify for a Blue in future years.”
It will also form part of a more major plan to encourage interest in the sport among students and younger adults.
Oli Lawrence, captain of the Cambridge team who is studying Earth Sciences at Gonville and Caius College, said: “I feel honoured to be captaining the first ever horse racing team for Cambridge – it’s a brilliant addition to the existing varsity sporting competitions and one that hopefully will be part of history for years to come.”
Oxford captain Lizzy Hamilton, who is studying Chemistry at Christ Church College said: “I cannot wait to take part in the Varsity horse race – it’s a superb initiative. Rivalry between the universities goes back so many centuries and we cannot wait to compete against Cambridge on the racecourse.”
It goes without saying that all the participants hope to go on to become galloping graduates.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Oli Lawrence (Cambridge) and Lizzy Hamilton (Oxford) at Newmarket