- When: 26th & 27th December 2023
- Where: Kempton Park, Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey
- Watch: ITV
- Official Website: Ladbrokes Christmas Festival
The Christmas Festival at Kempton Park Racecourse really does feel like a celebration and a sign off to the years racing. It’s very much a family affair with this meeting and whilst there is lots to see and do alongside the racing, on the track you’ll find some of the most fiercely contested and highest paid horse races in the UK.
Whilst it is, in fact, a two day festival, most eyes are drawn to Boxing Day which hosts the prestigious King George VI Chase. There will be plenty of festive offers around on both days and we’ll feature those when they become available.
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King George VI Chase Betting Tips
Please note: The following tips are for 2022 and will be updated shortly before the event starts.
The festive period is certainly a wonderful time of year to be a sports fan. A full slate of Premier League fixtures, the PDC World Darts Championship reaching a climax, and of course at the heart of it all – for racing fans at least – the magnificent two-day Christmas Festival at Kempton Racecourse.
Kicking off on Boxing Day, this meeting is the perfect tonic for racing fans looking to recover from the over-indulgence of the big day, granting the opportunity to take in top-quality jumping action from the comfort of the sofa – or even head off to Kempton Park yourself if you’re feeling up to it. Here we take a look at the main events on offer over the two days, including the big one: the King George VI Chase.
Ladbrokes Long Walk Hurdle
Monday 26th December, 12:45pm
The abandonment of meetings due to the cold snap has been a bitter blow for racing fans in the past month or so. However, all is not lost, with a number of the top events having been rescheduled. Included amongst that list is this excellent contest for the staying hurdlers which traditionally takes place at Ascot.
It’s Champ vs Paisley Park round five, as two of the most talented stamina-laden stars lock horns once more in what looks set to be a sizzler. The score stands at 2-1 in Champ’s favour in terms of wins, but Paisley Park did finish in front of the Henderson runner in the Stayers’ Hurdle, so the scores are effectively level. Champ is just favoured by the market at around the 15/8 market, whilst other contenders include the Paul Nicholls-trained Miranda, and the enigmatic Goshen from the yard of Gary Moore.
Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase
Monday 26th December, 1:20pm
Named in honour of five-time King George VI Chase winner Kauto Star, this contest takes place over the same course and distance as the big one and can be an excellent place to spot a future superstar. Previous winners include Coneygree and Long Run, both of whom went on to Cheltenham Gold Cup success.
Expect a field of the most talented novices in training to go to post once again in 2022, including the Paul Nicholls representative, McFabulous. With two wins from three over fences, he slammed the useful Thyme Hill last time out in a Grade 2 at Newbury and seems sure to prove popular in the betting. Also keep an eye out for anything from the yard of Joe Tizzard, with his now-retired father Colin having won this twice in the past six years.
Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle
Monday 26th December, 1:55pm
The feature hurdle event of the meeting sees the best of the two miles do battle in this two-mile event. Punters wouldn’t have gone too far wrong in sticking exclusively with the yard of Nicky Henderson in this Grade 1 affair, with the Lambourn handler having sent out the winner on six occasions in the last decade, and nine times in total.
Should everything go to plan, it would be something of a shock were Henderson not to move into double figures following this year’s edition. Casting a considerable shadow over the rest of the division is the trainer’s latest superstar, Constitution Hill. Labelled a freak of nature on the back of a series of towering performances, he is clearly the one they all have to beat. The main threat to the jolly may come from stablemate, Epatante, with the admirable mare having picked up this pot in both 2019 and 2021. The promising duo of I Like To Move It and Knappers Hill are other possibilities in a race which looks set to be informative in terms of the current pecking order.
Ladbrokes King George VI Chase
Monday 26th December, 2:30pm
Next up, the big one, and a race which has become synonymous with the festive season. From the exploits of Desert Orchid during the 1980s to the brilliance of Kauto Star in the 2000s, this is one of only a few races on the calendar in which true racing legends are created. But who will be joining the pantheon of greats in 2022?
No trainer has enjoyed more success in the great race than champion Paul Nicholls. The man behind the multiple successes of See More Business, Kauto Star, and Silviniaco Conti will be bidding for win number 13 this year, and in Bravemansgame, he may have the horse to do it. The seven year old is the favourite in most lists but is just one of a four-pronged Nicholls attack which includes the improving Hitman, rank outsider Pic D’Orhy, and the ever-popular 2020 champ, Frodon.
Of the others, seven-time Grade 1 winner, Envoi Allen would add an intriguing element to the field if taking up this engagement for Henry De Bromhead, as would none other than the reigning Grand National king Noble Yeats. Eldorado Allen shouldn’t be too far away at a big price for the Tizzards, but the big threat to Nicholls may come from the talented L’Homme Presse who goes for Venetia Williams.
Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase
Tuesday 27th December, 1:20pm
Three-time King George VI Chase winner Wayward Lad lies only behind Kauto Star and Desert Orchid in the all-time list and duly gets a race named in his honour on Day 2 of the meeting.
Acting as a springboard for truly exceptional talents such as Remittance Man, Sprinter Sacre, and Altior in the past, fans will be eager to assess the credentials of the latest batch of potential stars in this two-mile affair. Amongst the likely contenders in 2022 is Dan Skelton’s, Lac De Constance. Unbeaten in four starts since undergoing wind surgery, he bolted up by 20 lengths at this track last time out and may be ready for this step up in class.
Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase
Tuesday 27th December, 2:30pm
The highlight on Day 2 comes in this Grade 2 chase over two miles. Named in honour of the most popular grey of all time, the contest often provides a useful pointer towards the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, with the likes of Voy Por Ustedes, Sprinter Sacre and Altior all listed on the roll of honour.
Likely to start favourite for this year’s edition is the tough and talented Edwardstone from the yard of Alan King. Last season’s Arkle Chase hero took the step out of novice company in his stride when bolting up in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown and will be well-fancied to follow up. He may not have things all his own way though, as lying in wait amongst the opposition is Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra who, when winning this in 2020, became the first horse to lower the colours of the mighty Altior over this two-mile trip. A fascinating head-to-head battle awaits.
Day One – King George VI Chase Day, Tuesday 26th December 2023
- 12:45pm – Ladbrokes “We Play Together” Novices’ Hurdle (Class 2) – 2m
- 1:20pm – Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 3m
- 1:55pm – Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m
- 2:30pm – Ladbrokes King George VI Chase (Grade 1) – 3m
- 3:05pm – Ladbrokes Get Your £1 Free Bet Limited Handicap Chase (Class 3) – 2m 4½f
- 3:40pm – Ladbrokes Fanzone “Your Team Your Game” Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) – 2m 5f
Day Two – Desert Orchid Chase Day, Wednesday 27th December 2023
- 12:45pm – Ladbrokes Daily Odds Boosts Introductory Juvenile Hurdle (Class 2) – 2m
- 1:20pm – Ladbrokes Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) – 2m
- 1:55pm – Ladbrokes “We Play Together” Mares’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) – 3m ½f
- 2:30pm – Ladbrokes Desert Orchid Chase (Grade 2) – 2m
- 3:09pm – Ladbrokes Play “1-2-Free ” on Football Handicap Chase (Class 2) – 3m
- 3:40pm – Ladbrokes Fanzone “Your Team Your Game” Handicap Hurdle (Class 3) – 3m
Schedule subject to confirmation.
About the King George VI Chase & Christmas Festival
The King George VI Chase and the Christmas Festival are held at Kempton Park Racecourse in Spelthorne, Surrey. The site first opened in 1878 and boasts both a turf jumps and all-weather flat course within the 210 acre plot. Kempton has been home to many a successful jump jockey and is renowned for being flat and quick whilst also having some of the toughest national hunt races of any course. The most interesting feature of the meeting is the fact that it starts every year on Boxing Day and last for just two days, a relatively short amount for most major horse racing meetings.
Whilst the Festival lasts just two days, in that time are some of the most prestigious National Hunt races, with three Grade 1 races being held on Boxing Day alone. In fact, these three races make the Boxing Day meeting one of the highest classes of jumping race days anywhere on the planet.
Whilst there is little information on when the Kempton Christmas Festival as we know it officially started, the meeting has been held since 1937. This was the same year its iconic feature race the King George VI Chase, named in honour of the then new British Monarch, was run for the first time.
The King George VI race takes place on Boxing day each year. It is run over three brutal miles, with eighteen fences that all need to be successfully navigated.
The Chase is widely regarded as the second-most important chase in the UK, only to be outdone by the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Some of the world-class names that have won the event include Wayward Lad, Desert Orchid, Best Mate, Kauto Star, Long Run, Silvianco Conti and Cue Card.
British 3 Mile+ Grade 1 Chases (Excluding Novice Races)
|Race||Distance||Course||Month||Prize Fund (2023)||First Run|
|Gold Cup||3m 2½f||Cheltenham||March||£625,000||1924|
|King George VI Chase||3m||Kempton||December||£250,000||1937|
|Betfair Chase||3m 1½f||Haydock||November||£200,000||2005|
|Betway Bowl||3m 1f||Aintree||April||£250,000||1984|
The History of the King George VI Chase
As we have mentioned, the race was named in honour of the new king at the time, King George VI. The monarch is perhaps best known as the man who became king when his brother, Edward, abdicated in order to marry an American divorcee named Wallis Simpson. His story was also featured in the film ‘The King’s Speech’. He’d become king on the 11th of December 1936 and the race took place for the first time in the February of the following year.
Before and After the War
Despite having been inaugurated the year before the Second World War began, the race was only run twice before the hostilities in Europe meant it had to be temporarily stopped. Southern Hero won the inaugural running of the King George VI Chase at the age of twelve, which remains the record for the oldest horse ever to win it. That was made easier, of course, by the fact that just four horses competed in the two pre-war races, which may also have contributed to Airgead Sios’s victory in 1938.
One of the reasons no races took place during the war, other than the obvious, was that Kempton Park was used as a prisoner-of-war camp in England. Though the course reopened when the war was over, it didn’t do so straight away. By the time racing started back up again, the King George VI Chase had been moved to a new date, which was Boxing Day. That was in 1947 and, with a few exceptions, the event has taken place on the day after Christmas Day ever since.
There are pluses and minuses to the event being hosted on Boxing Day. On the positive side, there is an audience that is ready and willing to be entertained, with most attendees finding themselves very much in the Christmas spirit. On the other hand, it is a time of year that brings its own set of problems in the form of adverse weather conditions. So, it has proven on numerous occasions, not least in 1961 and 1962 when frost stopped any racing from taking place at the racecourse. Frost also caused problems in 1968, whilst snow caused racing to be abandoned two years later.
Snow and frost was the downfall of the race in 1981 and it has also caused disruption in more recent times. In 1995 and 2010 the race was moved to the following January because of poor weather, with the 1995 meeting actually having to be moved to Sandown as the frost was that bad. It wasn’t the only time that it was moved there either, given that it shifted there when Kempton was shut for development work in 2005. Weather hasn’t been the only thing to cause the race to be cancelled; the 1967 running couldn’t take place because restrictions were in place over a foot-and-mouth outbreak.
The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase
Whilst the King George VI Chase probably overshadows the other races at the event, there are still two more Grade 1 races to be had on Boxing Day. The first is the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase, which is a National Hunt chase and is open to four-year-old horses and over. This was first run in 1975, but only in 2013 did it take on its current name. Some of the winners include Dynaste, Tea for Two and Long Run.
As with the King George VI, the race distance is three miles and features eighteen fences, making it something of a mini-version of the main event. The big difference is that this is for novice chasers and was originally known as the Feltham Novices’ Chase. Lizzie Kelly became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 race when she was victorious in this one on the aforementioned Tea For Two in 2015.
The Christmas Hurdle
The final Grade 1 race is the Christmas Hurdle and it’s run on the shorter two mile course. The prize money for this race is £130,000 with over £74,000 of that going to the winner. Notable winners include Faugheen, Intersky Falcon and Binocular. It is run over two miles and has eight hurdles for the competitors to navigate. As with the other Grade 1 offerings, it’s for four-year-olds and over.
The Christmas Hurdle is one of the three races that make up the Triple Crown of Hurdling. The first race that is part of this unique award is the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, which takes place at Newcastle Racecourse in late November or early December each year. The Christmas Hurdle comes next, followed by the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival every March. To date, only three horses have been successful in all three races in the same season, Constitution Hill in 2022-23, Buveur D’Air in 2017-18 and Kribensis in 1989-1990.
Day Two’s Races
The second and final day of the Christmas Festival includes two Grade 2 races in the form of the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase and the Desert Orchid Chase. Both named after racing legends, these two contests have seen some superstars compete in them since their inception in 1988 and 2006 respectively.
The Wayward Lad Chase takes place over two miles and boasts twelve fences. It’s a race for novice chasers and originally took place over two and half miles. It was shifted to its current length in 2000 and became a Grade 2 offering five years later. It has been won by some well-known horses, such as Altior, Dodging Bullets, Simonsig and Riverside Theatre.
Special Tiara, Sprinter Sacre and Finian’s Rainbow are some of the horses that have triumphed in the Desert Orchid Chase in recent times. It is the same length as the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase and has the same number of fences to jump, with the big difference being that this one isn’t for novices. Named in honour of Desert Orchid, who won the King George VI Chase four times, the horse’s ashes were spread over the course before its first running.
About Kempton Racecourse
In 2005 the course underwent a bit of minor cosmetic surgery, which saw the laying of a synthetic track for flat races to enable racing all year round, no matter what the weather. The course was also floodlit, making it a great place for an evening of horse racing. That’s not the only bit of interesting information that we can tell you about Kempton Park, however.
Set in the countryside around sixteen miles from the Charing Cross area of London, Kempton Park has two lakes in the middle of it that the rest of the course almost feels as though it’s based around. Kempton Park Railway Station sits at its entrance and was specifically built in order to get racegoers to the course from London as easily as possible.
Samuel Hyde and the Building of the Course
Samuel H. Hyde was enjoying a carriage ride through the countryside on the outskirts of London when the carriage went past Kempton Manor and Park. He noticed that they were for sale and, being a businessman as well as a Conservative Party agent, he realised that they were full of potential. He leased the ground in 1872 and over the next six years he began to prepare it to become a racecourse. It opened as such in July of 1878.
The area was the demesne, or land, that belonged to the feudal lord and was recorded in the Doomsday Book. It has enjoyed several names since it first opened, but time has ravaged it in other ways. Apart from the early Victorian-era gateposts, no buildings of the original manner house remain on the land. It’s an area that boasts a fascinating history in general, including the fact that King Henry VII was responsible for enlarging the park by around one hundred and fifty acres and replenishing the deer within it in 1538.
Kempton Adds All-Weather Flat Course
Arguably the standout feature of Kempton Park Racecourse is the fact that it has different courses that can be used according to the type of racing taking place. Other venues, such as Cheltenham Racecourse, do boast more than one course but not in the same manner that Kempton does. There are adjoining inner and outer courses here, which allows either flat or jump racing.
Perhaps most useful of all is the aforementioned all-weather course, which opened its doors in March of 2006 and is made of a synthetic polytrack. It was designed in an oval shape and runs right-handed over either eight or ten furlongs, with the distance dictated by whether or not the inner or outer bend is used. The National Hunt track, on the other hand, is triangular in appearance and runs for one mile and five furlongs. It’s a mostly level course that boasts a two hundred and twenty yard run-in.
The decision to close the racecourse between May 2005 and March of 2006 in order to build the all-weather track was seen as a step in the right direction of bringing Kempton Park Racecourse up-to-date. At the same time, the fact that the flat racing has been run on that track since 2006 led to the virtual abandonment of the Jubilee Course to the extent that it’s now too overgrown for racing to take part on it.
Kempton Saved From Closure
Though the site was improved by the building of the track, Kempton Park had been earmarked as a potential site for new housing that the local authorities wanted to build. As a result, the Jockey Club confirmed in January of 2017 that the racecourse could be closed by the year 2021. That would have seen the likes of the King George VI Chase and Christmas Hurdle move to Sandown Park Racecourse, whilst the all-weather track would find its races moved to a new artificial track built at Newmarket. Thankfully these plans have since been shelved, keeping horse racing at the Surrey track.
The King George VI Chase is undoubtedly best-known for one of the greatest horses in national hunt history, Kauto Star. The legend won the race on five separate occasions between 2006 to 2011 with jockey Ruby Walsh on board for each. That’s part of the reason why Walsh is the most successful jockey in the race’s history. The leading trainer is Paul Nicholls with his winners including Kauto Star, See More Business and Silviniaco Conti and Clan Des Obeaux.
Because the meeting starts on Boxing Day, it has become a favourite for a huge number of bettors throughout the two days. The Kempton Christmas Festival is widely regarded as one of the biggest days for punters, with millions of pounds being wagered over its course. Here are some other interesting tidbits from the Festival weekend:
- Kauto Star is the race’s most famous winner, but not the only one to be victorious in it more than once. Wayward Lad won it three times in the 1980s and Desert Orchid managed four victories between 1986 and 1990, hence the two other races being named after them both
- Winners of the King George VI Chase also sometimes go on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup, with Arkle, Cottage Rake and Best Mate being examples of horses that have done so
- As the Kauto Star Chase is for novices, no horse has won it more than once. However, Mick Fitzgerald, Richard Dunwoody and Tony McCoy have all won it three times as jockeys
- Eight horses have won the Christmas Hurdle twice, with the most recent of those being Epatante in 2019 and 2021
- Tony McCoy is the Christmas Hurdle’s most successful jockey with five wins, whilst Nicky Henderson is its most successful trainer thanks to his ten wins to date
- Barry Geraghty and Mick Fitzgerald have both won the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase three times, with all wins being on horses trained by Nicky Henderson on his way to a record ten wins in the race to date
- Special Tiara and Voy Por Ustedes have both won the Desert Orchid Chase twice. Though neither were trained by Nicky Henderson, he’s still the race’s most successful trainer with five wins to date