Old Favourites at the King George VI Stakes
Waking up early on Boxing Day to eat a breakfast made out of Christmas Day leftovers is a tradition, but if you’re an avid horse-racer, there’s a healthier event to get yourself out of bed for: The King George VI Chase.
The second-most important Grade I National Hunt steeplechase, held in Kempton Park in Surrey and only surpassed by the Cheltenham Gold Cup in terms of importance.
The King George VI Chase forms part of the National Hunt, meaning stakes for the winners are high, and competition is stiff. Open only to horses four years and older, the race takes place over 3 miles of turf, with eighteen fences to be cleared during the running.
Initially debuting in 1937 to honour the newly-elected King George VI, the race was postponed after just two years while Kempton Park served as a prison-of-war camp during the Second World War. Following 1947, the race returned to eager anticipation with a new date: Boxing Day, on which it has run ever since.
The King George VI Chase is a quick peek at the way the National Hunt season is going to shape up, but it’s not a failproof method. Fourteen horses have won the King George VI Chase more than once, and five-time winner Kauto Star has heavily skewed the grading curve for subsequent winners. Kauto Star is not the first horse to sweep multiple wins – contender Desert Orchid has won four times, and was the last ten-year-old horse to win the King George VI Chase.
So, who’s shaping up to sweep the stakes this year around?
Every horse trained by Nicky Henderson is a champion in the making. He’s been training horses to knock the competition aside since three-time Champion Hurdle Winner, See You, Then, won in 1985, 1986, and 1987. Trained by the legendary Fred Winter, Nicky Henderson’s trained three horses running in this year’s King George VI Stakes, and it’s hard to tell which one will edge out the other.
Henderson’s Altior has never lost any of his ten races, and he’s an obvious choice to take the King George VI Stakes purse. Altior is also a familiar fixture at Kempton, as he’s taken part in Kempton races before in 2016 and 2015. He’s definitely got the combination of skills, training, and luck to take it all the way to the end.
Henderson-trained Top Notch could be the one to edge Altior out of the running. Top Notch isn’t as familiar with Kempton as Altior, but has a 57% win rate, and the drive to clinch a last-minute victory. It depends on the going, but Top Notch can’t be considered out of the running until race day.
Might Bite won last year’s King George VI Stakes and it would be a safe assessment to say that this year could be win number two. He did lose the Haydock race, but if he manages to sustain his energy through the last hurdle, we might be looking at a surprise second victory for Might Bite.
Horse racing is a pernicious sport to try and guesstimate a winner for. So many wins depend on a combination of factors that occur on the day, such as weather, going, and the results of long, hard training sessions. Fatigued horses sometimes sprint to the finish, and outpace fresh ones, similarly, horses who aren’t considered contenders can surprise you, and wind up placing second or third, or even first.
That said, there are some facts that would be pertinent to keep in mind when you’re following the King George VI Stakes:
- The last fourteen King George VI winners have been bred in France or Ireland, so keep a close eye on those France-bred and Irish-bred horses.
- Speaking of horses, 12 of the last 16 winners were over the age of 8.
- 10 out of 16 of the past winners had previously won the Kempton race before.
- 15 out of 16 horses who won the King George VI Stakes have had one other Grade I win in the past.
The King George VI Stakes has a star-studded line-up, and its race-card reads like a who’s who of National Hunt contenders. Missing this edition of the Boxing Day extravaganza is not recommended.
Tune in, and you might even be able to take an ante-post look at potential winners for future Grade I races, such as the National Hunt. There’s nothing quite like settling into a comfortable chair and watching the best of British racing streak across Kempton Park for accolades. So, curl up with a mug of tea, tune in, and get ready to thoroughly enjoy the experience.