For many, Christmas means a number of things: gifts, spending time with loved ones, Brussel sprouts, flatulent grandparents and lots of awful TV that manifests itself as you are simply too lethargic to change the channel.
For horse racing enthusiasts, the festive period means a cracking set of fixtures is on the horizon, and they don’t come much bigger than the King George VI at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Run over a distance of three miles at the famous track, the King George is the second most-prestigious race on UK soil behind the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which this serves as an excellent trial for.
What will we learn from the 2018 King George VI Chase? We’ll certainly get an idea of who the best chaser in the business is, given the quality of the field who will shake off the festive cobwebs on Boxing Day.
Might Bite, Waiting Patiently, Politologue, Bristol De Mai, Thistlecrack….this is a who’s who of three-milers and will act as a fantastic waypoint ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, of which it will be all systems go for as the last strains of Auld Lang Syne ring out.
So how does the King George stack up as a guide for Cheltenham form? As the most recent champions attest, very well as it goes!
So grab your notebook and pen, settle in to your favourite chair and watch the action unfold as a potential future festival winner makes themselves known.
In the meantime, here’s a look at the careers of some of the most notable King George winners.
Might Bite (2017)
Most of the horses on the list will be spoken about in the past tense, but Might Bite is very much an ongoing concern.
The nine-year-old is the defending champion of this renewal, and will also attempt to successfully defend the Betway Bowl in 2019.
Nicky Henderson’s charge won this renewal in 2017 with a narrow head victory over the 50/1 outsider Double Shuffle, with more established fancies such as Bristol De Mai ad Thistlecrack falling by the wayside.
Might Bite has a mixed record at Cheltenham. At his maiden festival in 2017 the fantastic novice crept over the line by a nose from Whisper in the RSA Novices’ Chase, but as a more established name 12 months later he was soundly beaten by Native River in the Gold Cup.
You suspect Henderson and his connections will be gunning for revenge at this year’s edition of the festival, and a powerful run at Kempton should act as the perfect warm up.
Might Bite’s King George & Cheltenham Festival Runs
|16th March 2018||Cheltenham Gold Cup||2nd|
|26th December 2017||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|15th March 2017||Cheltenham RSA Chase||Winner|
The old-timer is looking to become the first double-figure winner of the King George since Kauto Star, and while the ten-year-old isn’t getting any younger he does at least boast the advantage of winning this renewal back in 2016.
It’s amazing to thing that a horse this talented has only ever appeared at the festival once, but at the peak of his powers Thistlecrack demolished the field to hoover up in the Ryanair World Hurdle.
A horse that has a series of Grade 1 triumphs to his name, Thistlecrack has never quite kicked on, and his King George win remains as the most famous day of his career thus far.
Colin Tizzard will be hoping there’s one more big race in the tank of a horse that hasn’t won for two years.
Thistlecrack’s King George & Cheltenham Festival Runs
|26th December 2017||King George VI Chase||4th|
|26th December 2016||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|17th March 2016||Cheltenham World Hurdle||Winner|
Cue Card (2015)
The much-loved Cue Card won the King George in 2015, when he just edged out the almighty Vautour to claim yet another Grade 1 trophy to add to his collection.
This is a horse with an impeccable Cheltenham record, and yet oddly in the aftermath of that famous victory at Kempton his form at the festival nose-dived.
A fall in the Gold Cup in 2016, when he was a well-fancied 5/2 hope, was a source of huge frustration for punters, and that process was repeated 12 months later when Colin Tizzard’s charge fell three from home.
This legend’s final ever run prior to retirement came at Cheltenham, where he was sadly pulled up in the Ryanair Chase.
But it’s always preferable to remember the good times, and that’s what Cue Card delivered in spades in the years prior to his King George triumph.
He was a shock 40/1 winner of the Wetherbys Champion Bumper in 2010, before being bested by the powerhouse Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle of 2012.
Cue Card’s best run at Cheltenham, arguably, came in 2013, when he demolished First Lieutenant in the Ryanair Chase.
Cue Card’s King George & Cheltenham Festival Runs
|15th March 2018||Cheltenham Ryanair Chase||Pulled Up|
|17th March 2017||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Fell|
|26th December 2016||King George VI Chase||2nd|
|18th March 2016||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Fell|
|26th December 2015||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|26th December 2014||King George VI Chase||5th|
|26th December 2013||King George VI Chase||2nd|
|14th March 2013||Cheltenham Ryanair Chase||Winner|
|26th December 2012||King George VI Chase||5th|
|13th March 2012||Cheltenham Arkle Chase||2nd|
|15th March 2011||Cheltenham Supreme Novice Hurdle||4th|
|15th March 2010||Cheltenham Champion Bumper||Winner|
Silviniaco Conti (2013 & 2014)
The two victories in the King George were undoubtedly the highlight of the career of Silviniaco Conti, a fine horse who never quite showed his best at Cheltenham.
To be fair, he was travelling well in the 2013 Gold Cup before falling three from home, but that’s as close as he got to a memorable festival performance.
Fourth in the Gold Cup of 2014, the Paul Nicholls trained bay was seventh in the same renewal 12 months later.
Silviniaco Conti’s King George & Chelt’m Festival Runs
|26th December 2016||King George VI Chase||3rd|
|26th December 2015||King George VI Chase||Pulled Up|
|13th March 2015||Cheltenham Gold Cup||7th|
|26th December 2014||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|14th March 2014||Cheltenham Gold Cup||4th|
|26th December 2013||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|15th March 2013||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Fell|
Long Run (2011 & 2012)
Long Run was a two-time King George winner; the first coming in January of 2011, where he bested the odds-on favourite Kauto Star, and he followed up in 2012 with another impressive showing.
Did Robert Waley-Cohen’s horse do the business at Cheltenham as well? You bet: he won the Gold Cup in 2011, again besting Kauto Star and the legendary Denman.
Otherwise, it was an empty trophy cabinet for the French horse, finishing third in the RSA Chase of 2010, the Gold Cup of 2012 and the same event 12 months later.
Long Run’s King George & Cheltenham Festival Runs
|26th December 2013||King George VI Chase||Unseated Rider|
|15th March 2013||Cheltenham Gold Cup||3rd|
|26th December 2012||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|16th March 2012||Cheltenham Gold Cup||3rd|
|26th December 2011||King George VI Chase||2nd|
|18th March 2011||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Winner|
|15th January 2011||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|17th March 2010||Cheltenham RSA Chase||3rd|
Kauto Star (2006-09 and 2011)
There aren’t enough superlatives to throw at Kauto Star, a dual King George and Gold Cup winner.
Indeed, that sentence rather undersells the achievements of one of the most successful horses of the modern era, who racked up nearly £4 million in prize money during a glittering chase career.
A five-time King George champion, Paul Nicholls’ money-making machine also powered home in a pair of Cheltenham Gold Cups. Partnered by Ruby Walsh, Kauto Star outmanoeuvred Exotic Dancer in the 2007 renewal before doing the business against Denman two years later.
That pair of triumphs were understandably the highlight of his festival career, although there are always the tales of the ones that got away; notably the 2008 and 2011 Gold Cups, in which he lost out to Denman and Long Run.
Kauto Star’s King George & Cheltenham Festival Runs
|16th March 2012||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Pulled Up|
|26th December 2011||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|18th March 2011||Cheltenham Gold Cup||3rd|
|15th January 2011||King George VI Chase||3rd|
|19th March 2010||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Fell|
|26th December 2009||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|13th March 2009||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Winner|
|26th December 2008||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|14th March 2008||Cheltenham Gold Cup||2nd|
|26th December 2007||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|16th March 2007||Cheltenham Gold Cup||Winner|
|26th December 2006||King George VI Chase||Winner|
|15th March 2006||Cheltenham Champion Chase||Fell|
The Best of the Rest
Given its prestigious status, it’s little wonder that the King George has attracted some of the finest chasers of all time.
Best Mate, for example, won his first Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2002, and followed up by triumphing in the King George nine months or so later. And that was just the start: two more Gold Cups followed in subsequent years. Sadly, his premature death prevented him from adding to that awesome haul.
The double winners keep on coming. See More Business landed the King George in 1997 and ’99, and followed up by producing a barnstorming performance to win the Cheltenham headliner in the same year.
It never quite happened for One Man, the outstanding grey, in the Gold Cup, but he still enjoyed success at the festival by claiming the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 1998. Punters were given a sneak glimpse of his talents when John Hales’ raider bolted home to win a King George double in 1995 and ’96.
And who can forget Desert Orchid, the unbelievable frontrunner who won a staggering four King George titles in the late 1980s and into 1990.
Surprisingly, Cheltenham was never his favourite hunting ground, but a 1989 Gold Cup win confirmed Dessie’s status as one of the finest National Hunt horses of all time.