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The event was instituted in 1946 for public schools in the United Kingdom. It was opened to entries from overseas in 1964, and that year Washington-Lee High School (USA) became the first overseas crew to win the event.
The inauguration of this race coinciding, as it did, with the first visit to the regatta of Her Royal Highness The Princess Elizabeth (now Her Majesty The Queen), permission was graciously given to name the trophy "The Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup".
The PE (as it is usually abbreviated) is one of only a few races in the regatta which does not allow composite crews to be entered, and as such each race is a straight competition between one club and another. As the most prestigious race of the schoolboy rowing year, the event attracts strong competition both from the UK and abroad. For British crews, winning the PE can be the final victory needed to win the "treble", a prestigious achievement which comprises winning the Schools' Head of the River Race, The National Schools Regatta and finally the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup, all in the same year.
Eton College hold the record for most victories with eleven wins and they also have the record for the most losses in the finals with 5. The King's School Canterbury shares the record with Oundle School for most losses (4) in finals without having ever won the event.
The course record times for the event are:
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