Ahead of the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, bookmaker Fitzdares takes a look back at the names – both human and equine – who have become synonymous with the race
The King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day is largely considered the second most coveted prize in National Hunt racing this side of the Irish Sea, after the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Fitzdares takes a look at its biggest winners through history.
Bookmaker Fitzdares rounds up the fairy tale stories from the Grand National, as well as those against-the-odds victories.
SPORTING WAGERS: KING GEORGE VI CHASE
The ‘King George’, as it is often referred to, serves as the festive feature of Kempton Park’s two-day Christmas meeting. Named in honour of the late King, the Grade 1, three-mile chase is largely recognised as the second most coveted prize on the National Hunt calendar this side of the Irish Sea, bettered only by the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
In recent years, the King George has become synonymous with leading trainer Paul Nicholls, having notched up a staggering 10 wins in the contest since the turn of the century and a record 12 in total. His most high-profile winner is two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Kauto Star, who rattled off a remarkable five-fold of King George successes, including four in a row from 2006-09. His pilot was the winning-most rider in Cheltenham Festival history, Ruby Walsh, who also leads the race for King George wins [Kauto Star is pictured with Nicholls, Walsh and owner Clive Smith after his 2009 win].
Nicholls’ 12 wins in the race include a hat-trick in the past three renewals of the Boxing Day feature. Clan des Obeaux was a brilliant dual scorer of the contest in 2018 and 2019 but it was arguably last year that provided the Ditcheat handler with a more significant success. Frodon, at odds of 20/1, supposedly the ‘third string’ of the Nicholls juggernaut, controlled the fractions from the front before quickening up in the straight to go and score the biggest success of his career under a superb front-running ride from jockey Bryony Frost. In landing the prize, Frost became the first female jockey in history to win the King George.
Kauto Star’s mark on Kempton’s festive feast extends much further than just the race in question. The Grade 1 Feltham Novices’ Chase lends its name to Nicholls’ former star stayer and is now run as the ‘Kauto Star Novices’ Chase’. The race serves as a key trial for Cheltenham’s Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase, run over the same distance and a crucial indicator of a potential future Gold Cup winner further down the line.
Naming a race in honour of a King George hero is nothing new. Three-time winner Wayward Lad has a two-mile Novices’ Chase named after him on day two of Kempton’s Christmas bonanza, whilst the two-mile Grade 2 feature on the same card takes its name from four-time scorer Desert Orchid.
Such is the prestige of the King George that, since 2005, the race forms the middle leg of the staying chase triple crown and a cool £1 million bonus for those equine beasts that achieve it. November’s Betfair Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup make up the other two legs of the fabled hat-trick.
Given his extraordinary record in the King George alone, it will come as no shock to learn that Kauto Star was the last horse to complete the set in the 2006/07 season. It took ‘the Tank’, his stablemate Denman, to deny him in the Cheltenham Gold Cup a year later, preventing him completing the treble in back-to-back seasons.
It’s fair to say that the 2016 renewal of the King George was a costly affair for us here at Fitzdares. Trainer Colin Tizzard looked to have a strong hand, fielding the front two in the market in Cue Card and Thistlecrack. As post time loomed large, all the late money continued to flood in for Tizzard’s supposed ‘second string’. So much so, that the younger horse usurped his stable companion and 2015 King George hero, Cue Card, at the head of the betting.
As the race unfolded, it quickly became clear that connections were spot on. Thistlecrack jumped flamboyantly from fence to fence and ultimately galloped his rivals into submission to go on and land the biggest success of his career. Despite his ‘novice’ status, Thistlecrack’s flawless display in those six minutes around Kempton’s sharp three miles quickly catapulted him to top of the antepost betting for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, representing our biggest loser in the book on the day.
By Fitzdares, Racing Bookmaker of the Year (fitzdares.com)