Staged at Kempton Park racecourse on Boxing Day (26th Dec) the King George VI Chase is the highlight contest on the festive racing calendar as ‘once-a-year’ punters try and get their Christmas turkeys paid for by the bookies.
With star names like Desert Orchid, One Man and, more recently, Kauto Star, who won the King George Chase a staggering five times, amongst the household names to land this decent pot then the 3m Grade One race never fails to attract the best longer distance chasers in training, while it’s also seen as a good guide to that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.
We take a look back at recent winners and highlight the key stats to take into the 2017 renewal – this year run on Tuesday Dec 26th, where the Colin Tizzard-trained Thistlecrack, who took the prize 12 months ago, will be looking to add his name to the hall-of-fame and become the fifth horse since 2005 to successfully defend his title.
Past King George VI Chase Winners
2016 – Thistlecrack (11/10 fav)
2015 – Cue Card (9/2)
2014 – Silviniaco Conti (15/8 fav)
2013 – Silviniaco Conti (7/2)
2012 – Long Run (15/8 fav)
2011 – Kauto Star (3/1)
2010 – Long Run (9/2)
2009 – Kauto Star (8/13 fav)
2008 – Kauto Star (10/11 fav)
2007 – Kauto Star (4/6 fav)
2006 – Kauto Star (8/13 fav)
2005 – Kicking King (11/8 fav)
2004 – Kicking King (3/1 fav)
2003 – Edredon Bleu (25/1)
2002 – Best Mate (11/8 fav)
Note: The 2005 renewal was staged at Sandown Park
King George VI Chase Trends
14/15 – Had won a Grade One chase before
14/15 – Returned 9/2 or shorter in the betting
14/15 – Had raced within the last 5 weeks
14/15 – Finished in the top three last time out
13/15 – Placed favourites
13/15 – French (10) or Irish bred (3)
13/15 – Officially rated 169 or higher
13/15 – Had won over 3m or further (fences) before
11/15 – Aged 8 or younger
10/15 – Had won a race over fences at Kempton before
10/15 – Winning favourites
10/15 – Won last time out
9/15 – Ran in the Betfair Chase (Haydock) last time out
8/15 – Aged 6 or 7 years-old
7/15 – Won by a previous winner of the race
7/15 – Trained by Paul Nicholls (9 times in all)
5/15 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/15 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
2/15 – Ridden by Noel Fehily
2/15 – Won by an Irish-based yard (only 3 in the last 31 runnings)
Colin Tizzard and Nicky Henderson have trained 4 of the last 7 winners (2 each)
The average winning SP in the last 15 years is 7/2
Before we officially head into 2017 we’ve the small matter of the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day to take care of and hopefully I’ve got all the key trends that will help pay for this year’s turkey!
It’s a race that is probably second only to the Grand National if we are talking about attracting non-racing fans to have a bet, as for many the King George is a key part of the festive period. And in the most recent years it’s certainly been a profitable one for punters, backed up again 12 months ago with another favourite – Thistlecrack – making it another woeful one for the bookmakers. Yes, the layers have certainly had to fork out for a lot of Christmas returns to punters since the turn of the century. From 2002 we’ve seen a staggering 10 of the last 15 (67%) favourites take first prize – with 13 of the last 15 market leaders also placed, while a huge 93% of the last 15 winners returned 9/2 or shorter in the betting, suggesting the backers don’t often get this race wrong!
So, will it be more of the same this year?
Run over 3m, and normally at a decent gallop, it’s a race that in recent years has been dominated by past winners. We’ve seen National Hunt legends like Desert Orchid, The Fellow, One Man, See More Business, Kicking King, Kauto Star, Long Run and, most-recently, Silviniaco Conti all land the King George at least twice, and this is certainly another factor that the bookies must hate with the ‘once-a-year’ festive punters remembering past heroes and latching onto them.
So, if this is to be repeated again this year it will be the turn of the Colin Tizzard-trained Thistlecrack, who rewarded favourite backers 12 months ago, to try and uphold the ‘past champions’ good record.
However, as we all know he’s had his issues since that easy win last year and as a result missed later targets like the Gold Cup – we’ll have to see not only if he makes the race, but also if he returns at the same level of form, but it goes without saying he’d be a massive player if lining-up.
So, what are the other main trends to look for?
We’ve already mentioned how well the favourites have done recently; plus, past winners must always be feared, but in terms of trainers to note, then the champion handler – Paul Nicholls – is your man. He’s won the race 9 times in total, including 7 times in the last 11 renewals. However, with not a lot of ammo at the moment in this sphere then Nicholls might have to sit this out again. And instead the Colin Tizzard and Nicky Henderson yards, who have won four of the last 7 runnings between them, look more of a threat with Thistlecrack and last season’s RSA Chase winner, Might Bite, figuring prominently in the betting at the time of writing.
What about the Irish Challenge?
Considering the Irish have had a lot of top staying chasers over the years it’s slightly surprising that they’ve only landed the race three times in the last 30 years, with the last of those coming back in 2005 with Kicking King. Yes, they’ve hit the crossbar a few times, most notably in 2015 with the ill-fated Vautour failing by just a head, and Don Cossack falling when holding every chance. It’s also surprising that leading Irish handler – Willie Mullins – has only won the race once (Florida Pearl, 2001) so despite anything he sends over sure to attract attention it’s still stat we can’t ignore.
The Irish do have a chance though with the current Gold Cup hero – Sizing John. It will be interesting if this Jessica Harrington-trained 7 year-old makes the trip over or if connections opt to stay in Ireland for other targets, but if he does then he’s another that would tick a lot of the main trends.
Other key stats to have on your side are that 14 of the last 15 winners have raced within the last 5 weeks, plus had also finished in the top 3 in their most recent race. Of those 14 winners, we also saw nine come into the race off the back of a win, so it’s certainly worth looking out for in-form winning horses that have raced inside the last 5 weeks.
Are there any good trial races to look for? Yes, the the Betfair Chase – run at Haydock Park (25th Nov) – has certainly become the most significant over the years. 9 of the last 15 winners had run in that contest before winning here – with Cue Card in 2015 being the most recent example of this. By the time you read this that 3m chase would have been run (25th Nov), so it’s certainly worth looking back at – not only the winner, but also just horses that just contested that race.
The final things to look for are the age as 11 of the last 15 winners were 8 or younger, plus winning form over fences here at Kempton is another plus, with 10 of the last 15 winners ticking that stat too. Many feel that as Kempton’s a flat track then horses without proven stamina might get away with running well here, but it’s also worth remembering that many races here are run at a much quicker, more even pace – mainly due to the flat nature of the track. Therefore, running at a slightly faster pace, then they will certainly require proven stamina in the closing stages, plus the ability to jump fences at a slightly quicker pace means more accuracy in that department is also needed – backed-up again by the fact 66% of past winners have won here over fences in the past.