Quintin Head is the first major Tideway race of the calendar year and provides a rare opportunity for eights to get some racing experience on the Championship Course ahead of HORR and WEHORR. Quintin always attracts a large crowd of matched eights and incomplete top boats, but that’s not to say the racing isn’t competitive, and the results provide a strong indication of which clubs have put in the Winter training, looking to reap the benefits in the Spring racing season.
Championship eights is looking like a student-dominated affair with the first three crews off being Imperial College A, UL A, and Oxford Brookes A. The rivalry between Imperial and UL is one of the fiercest on the Tideway, and both clubs will look to set out their intentions early. Imperial were the overall winners last year, beating UL down to 4th behind Thames and schoolboy crew St. Paul's, but only the year before the tables were turned with UL taking 10 seconds on IC. Too early to call anything for sure, however it’s surely a case of when, not if, Oxford Brookes will catch UL. This is the first time since the 2014 race that Brookes have made the trip down to the Tideway, where they finished second overall winning elite eights behind UL – not a result many will expect to be repeated. Brookes are coming right off the back of their Wimbleball camp, and this appearance is likely to ensure some winter racing after the cancellation of Wallingford Head. Usually Brookes are given a run for their money by Goldie, sometimes Isis and occasionally Leander. However, Isis have entered the senior category and there's word of some private racing further upstream on Sunday, so potentially a run for the reserve trialists and cause for absence of the pink palace. While the Cambridge Women are entered, it’s a no-show from the men, leaving Brookes as sure favourites for the overall this weekend.
Perhaps the absence of Cambridge has something to do with the missing entries from giants Molesey and Thames, but what happens in Ely stays in Ely. The lack of an entry from Thames is especially surprising: they won the event overall in 2017 while racing in Senior Eights (for those too young to remember, the tiers were Elite, Senior, IM1, IM2, IM3) and have consistently placed well since. This is Thames’ first season under new head coach and last year’s men’s coach Sander Smulders, and a brief glance at his profile will assure his position as a fantastic coach, so the excitement for Eights Head is mounting fast! The handful of school crews in Championship eights should place evenly amongst the field, which is rounded off by Oxford Lightweights, who had a fantastic season last year with wins at the Lightweight Boat Race, two bronze medals at BUCS regatta, qualifying for the Temple Challenge Cup, and a silver medal at EUSA.
Senior Eights sees some more variety from the club entries as Quintin start followed by Lea RC, Upper Thames, London, Kingston’s 2V and Molesey’s club eight. The top three crews from last year’s Senior category are all either not racing or not in category, and this likely means that Lea will take the win. Lea raced in Championship last year with a time that would’ve placed them barely second in Senior eights behind Molesey. They shouldn’t have much trouble, but if they do it’ll probably come from the University of Bristol, who are current top dogs regionally after Bristol Head, and their first steps onto the Tideway this year could bring the confidence they need to beat past some of the lower ranked Brookes boats that previously edged ahead of them at BUCS regatta. An Isis entry into Senior is again not something seen for a very long time – nothing in the records which go back to 2001. Further marking this race to be full of surprises, and with almost nothing to judge the crew on besides knowing they’re fresh off a training camp in Temple-sur-Lot, Isis are a true wildcard entry.
Intermediate eights sees the usual London clubs entering: Vesta, Auriol Kensington, Putney Town, London and Curlew all know the water well and have to see off the barrage of Championship university third eights and even a fifth eight from Brookes. They’re joined by two City of Bristol crews and Marlow rowing club. The University of Warwick have laughed in the face of the flooding that has hugely disrupted the rowing scene in the West Midlands, and their first eight should place reasonably well amongst this field, with their time more than any likely to be affected by the conditions the Tideway has to offer them.