The King George VI chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day is the racing highlight of the Christmas National Hunt calendar. Racegoers will flock in their thousands to the south-west London track to revel in the Christmas spirit – and hope to back a few winners along the way!
There has been many fine champions of this prestigious race - most notably - Kauto Star, who racked up an incredible five King George victories in his stellar career. Silviniaco Conti is the current King George market leader but how significant is this festive showpiece race in regard to the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup? Here we will look into the recent results of the Boxing Day spectacle, and see how those outcomes reflect towards the March festival.
In recent seasons, the King George has been a safe haven for favourite backers as eight of the last twelve renewals of the great race have been won by the jolly. Edredon Bleu sprang a 25/1 shock back in 2003, but this race is likely - according to statistics - to be won by a horse that is at the head of the market. It must be said that three of the last four renewals have been won by a non-favourite to redress the balance – but those three recent winners have all returned at odds of no bigger than 9/2.
Age no barrier
Most age trends to a specific race tend to congregate around a certain bracket, but that cannot be said for the King George. Three six-year old winners, Kicking King (2004), Kauto Star (2006) and Long Run (2010) have all proven that youth can conquer experience in the race. It could be argued that Long Run was effectively a five-year old as the 2010 renewal was actually run in January 2011 due to bad weather over the festive period.
The three mentioned above also won the race as seven-year olds, together with Best Mate (2002) and Silviniaco Conti from last season. Kauto Star (2008-2009) is the only eight, and nine-year old winner in the last twelve runnings, while Edredon Bleu and Kauto Star yet again in 2011, proved that age was no barrier by entering the winners’ enclosure at aged 11.
Experience is key
Other notable statistics are that nine French bred horses have passed the post in first place in the last 12 years, while the other three winners are Irish bred. Every winner of the King George during that twelve year period has also won a Grade One chase previously, which can be classed as a negative sign for the inexperienced Champagne Fever.
So, how does all this information work towards the Cheltenham Gold Cup? From 1990 onwards, there have been just four horses who won the King George, and then went on and claimed the Gold Cup in March. Best Mate (2003), Kicking King (2005), Kauto Star (2007, 2009) and most latterly Long Run in 2011, all completed the seasonal double. That quintet are arguably the four finest staying chasers in recent history, which proves the thought of winning both titles in the same season is a very tough task that only the finest equine talent have achieved.
If you are looking for the winner of the King George, then the sensible option is to look towards an experienced horse, who has already won at Grade One level – and is relatively short in the betting. Form tends to hold up year on year in the race, so Silviniaco Conti must have excellent claims to return to the winners’ enclosure once again. However, if the Paul Nicholls trained gelding was to triumph at Kempton this Christmas, is he capable of winning the Gold Cup as well? I’ll leave that decision up to you.