Handicapping Dad Vail's Gold Cup races

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Rowers from the College of Charleston lift their boat out of the water after a practice session. (Akira Suwa/Staff Photographer)

GOT A BOATHOUSE ROW tour yesterday afternoon. After years of seeing them from across the rivers, made visits to the Undine Barge Club, Penn AC and Malta. You could see and smell the history - wood everywhere, boats of all sizes, spectacular views of the city's skyline.

Got a smooth trip on the Schuylkill, heading to the 2,000-meter course where the Dad Vail will be held today and tomorrow. Listened very closely to boatmates Jim Barker and Joe McFadden. In 1950, they won the double sculls Gold Cup on the river. They know things.

We went 600 meters past the Strawberry Mansion Bridge to where the races will start. We headed down the course in one of the six lanes, took that right turn the racers will face past the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, got the great view of Memorial Hall and then cruised to the finish line at the Columbia Avenue Bridge.

So what exactly was I doing there? Well, a few weeks ago, I accepted the challenge of trying to handicap tomorrow's Gold Cup race. After failing spectacularly to discern the winner of last Saturday's Kentucky Derby, this looks a bit less complicated, with only four participants each race: one for women, the other for men.

Through the generosity of Herb Lotman, the man who pioneered cryogenics for McDonald's and co-founded the McDonald's LPGA Championship, the Gold Cup, first awarded to John B. Kelly Sr. in 1920, will be awarded again tomorrow, with a first prize of $10,000. The Challenge Cup had been missing for years, but Lotman rescued it. And brought the race back.

It is single sculls. Some of the world's best will be on the river at 4 p.m. The men will take about 6 1/2 minutes to go what is essentially the Derby distance, 4 1/2 minutes slower than the horses, probably faster than traffic on the nearby Schuylkill Expressway typically drives it.

This will be different. These rowers don't race on rivers. They will not be used to currents or turns. They will be using Lanes 2 through 5. I am told 3 and 4 are often like a live rail at the track. I have watched the videos, assessed speed figures and analyzed the currents up close.

Now on to the winners:

THE WOMEN

Ekaterina Karsten (Belarus), 3-5: Two-time Olympic champion (1996, 2000) and six-time world champion. She is the Zenyatta of rowing, usually coming from behind.

Frida Svensson (Sweden), 7-5: Upset the favorite in the 2010 world championship when Karsten waited too long to make her move.

Mirka Knapkova (Czech Rebublic), 6-1: Two-time Olympian and three-time medal winner at the worlds.

Iva Obradovic (Serbia), 8-1: Won under-23 gold in 2005. Part of California's 2005 NCAA champions.

1. Ekaterina Karsten 2. Frida Svensson. 3. Iva Obradovic 4. Mirka Knapkova

THE MEN

Ondrej Synek (Czech Republic), 6-5: Won the 2010 world championship after getting silver in the 2008 Olympics. Strictly the one to beat.

Luka Spik (Slovenia), 5-2: Powerful strokes. Glides through the water.

Iztok Cop (Slovenia), 4-1: Will be right there with Spik, his one-time double sculls teammate. They won the 1999 worlds and 2000 Olympics together.

Ken Jurkowski (United States), 10-1: Cornell grad has been in the 2005 and 2006 worlds, as well as the 2008 Olympics. He has found a very difficult spot here.

1. Ondrej Synek 2. Iztok Cop 3. Luka Spik 4. Ken Jurkowski *

Send email to jerardd@phillynews.com.