The King George VI Chase is one of the highlights of not just the winter but the entire racing year and promises to produce a fantastic race once again at Kempton Park on December 26th (3:05pm).
Some of the greats of the jumping game have worn the King George crown: Mill House and Arkle won it in the early 1960s while Pendil, Captain Christy, Silver Buck and Wayward Lad became dual winners between 1972 and 1983.
Wayward Lad won it again in 1985, with Burrough Hill Lad winning in 1984 after a thrilling tussle with Coombs Ditch, with Wayward Lad finishing last of the three runners.
The legendary grey, Desert Orchid, won it four times (1986 then 1988-1990) and the great French trainer Francois Doumen landed it four times between 1987 and 1994 before winning it again with First Gold in 2000.
By that time, another dashing grey, One Man, had won it twice (1995-96). Three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate won in 2002, Tom Taaffe’s Kicking King won it for Ireland in 2004 and 2005 before probably the most-memorable King George winner of them all, Kauto Star, began his rule of the Kempton roost.
He won the race five times (2006-9 and then 2011), his winning run being broken by Nicky Henderson’s Long Run, who won again in 2012.
Kauto Star’s trainer, Paul Nicholls, who had also won with See More Business (1997 and 1999), then won two more King Georges with Silviniaco Conti (2013-14), whose second win was followed by success for the Colin Tizzard-trained pair, Cue Card in 2015 and Thistlecrack (2016), and, last year, Might Bite, who gave Nicky Henderson a third win in the three-mile contest.
Might Bite is back for more this year and last season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up can be forgiven his tame run at Haydock last time as the upright and demanding nature of the fences that day caught out many a horse.
Not the eventual Haydock winner Bristol de Mai, of course, and he’ll be lining up in Sunbury on St Stephen’s Day, as will Haydock third Thistlecrack, who was returning from a 333-day break that day on Merseyside.
The runner-up, Native River, who the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March following a superb tussle with Might Bite, is also set to run, as is Ruth Jefferson’s Grade 1 Ascot Chase winner, Waiting Patiently, who is unbeaten over fences, and Paul Nicholl’s Politologue, last season’s Grade 1 Melling Chase winner at Aintree and recent winner of the Grade 2 Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot.
The six King George contenders mentioned above have won 13 Grade 1 chases between them, and there is also the 2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Coneygree among their potential opponents. It’s a race that has real depth to it.
Race to savour
Whatever way you look at it, it promises to be another superb race for one of the most-coveted contests in the calendar.
In fact, it looks set to be the proverbial Christmas cracker.
Selection: Might Bite (5/2)
I’m prepared to forgive his Haydock run and he can land the King George VI Chase and give trainer Nicky Henderson a fourth win in the famous race.
Kempton will probably not suit Native River as well as a track like Cheltenham does, although I still expect a good run from him.
The 2016 King George winner Thistlecrack ran a fine race at Haydock following an absence and he can go well.
Waiting Patiently is the potential improver but Bristol de Mai finished sixth in the King George last year after winning at Haydock so, in a sense, has it to prove now at Kempton.
If he does win, he will have completed the first two legs of a treble that will land him a £1,000,000 bonus should he then go on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March.