A Boxing Day highlight for horse lovers and racing fans is of course the King George VI Chase at Kempton.
The first winner was Southern Hero in 1937 — who at 12 remains the oldest winner of the race. Since then there have been several multiple winners, many whom became popular stars of the festive season.
Ahead of this year’s race H&H looks back over a selection of King George heroes.
The French-bred chaser, owned by Clive Smith, was a firm Boxing Day favourite and was a major draw to the race for several years. Every year he parades at the track, there is even a bar at the course named after him and filled with memorabilia honouring the King George hero.
This year a statue of the 14-year-old will be unveiled at the course, created by equestrian sculptor Charlie Langton.
“Owning Kauto Star has been the thrill of a lifetime and to be able to present a statue of him to Kempton Park, to celebrate his great wins is truly heart-warming for me,” said Clive.
“Being remembered in this way is nothing less than he deserves. My very talented, beautiful horse with a lovely quiet temperament and a tremendous will to win; the horse of a lifetime.”
A four-time winner of the King George VI Chase at Kempton, the gelding continued to parade there after his retirement on Boxing Day each year for the public.
After his death in 2006 his ashes were buried near his statue at the Middlesex track.
He won the race first in 1986 and followed it up with wins in 1988, 1989 and 1990.
A much-loved chasing campaigner he won 34 races, ran an estimated 180 miles and jumped more than 1,000 fences. “I’ve never known a horse so brave,” said rider Simon Sherwood.
However, his career was almost over before it started as in his first race in 1983 he took bad tumble. But he returned to the track and won many top class races, including the 1998 Tingle Creek and 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
After a crashing fall during his sixth King George he was retired. He had an active retirement — making public appearances and parading.
He died peacefully in his stable in November 2006 aged 27.
One of the most popular greys in racing, One Man won the King George two years running — 1995 and 1996.
He was ridden by Richard Dunwoody and ran in the famous yellow, red and white silks of John Hales, owner of Nick Skelton’s showjumping star Arko.
The gelding, by Remainder Man, was foaled in 1988 and won 20 of 35 races — including the 1998 Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
He was trained by the late Gordon Richards, who nicknamed the horse his “bouncing rubber ball”.
He soared into the public eye thanks to his high speed and neat jumping style and followed in Desert Orchid’s footsteps as the people’s grey.
Long Run won the 2010 renewal of the race — which was run in January 2011 due to bad weather — providing jockey Sam Waley-Cohen with his first King George title.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, the gelding finished ahead of stablemate Riverside Theatre in second and Kauto Star in third. The next season he finished second to Kauto Star, who won his fifth, final and record-breaking race. In 2012 Long Run won for a second time, beating Captain Chris in a thrilling race by a neck.
Another popular grey winner of the Boxing Day race, Teeton Mill won the King George in 1998.
Trained by Venetia Williams he also won the Hennessy Gold Cup the same year. Teeton Mill sadly died last month at the age of 25.
A three-time winner of the race, Wayward Lad took the King George in 1982, 1983 and 1984.
Trained in Ireland by Tom Taaffe, Kicking King won under top Irish jockey Barry Geraghty in 2004 and 2005 — the second of which was run at Sandown as track redevelopment was underway at Kempton.
By Old Vic, Kicking King also won the 2005 Gold Cup.
Paul Nicholls reclaimed his Kempton crown last year with his charge Silviniaco Conti.
The eight-year-old, ridden by Noel Fehily, now aims to become the 14th horse to win the race more than once, and give his trained a record ninth victory in the race.
At the time jockey Noel called the horse “tough as nails”.
Silviniaco Conti goes into this year’s race as favourite, up against Champagne Fever, Al Ferof and Menorah. For full entries see below.
But who will win? Tune in to Channel 4 Racing or visit the course on 26 December to find out.
The William Hill King George VI Chase is run at 3.10pm.
- Silviniaco Conti
- Champagne Fever
- Al Ferof
- Cue Card
- Johns Spirit
- Wishfull Thinking
- Double Ross
- Wonderful Charm