Kempton Christmas Festival: The numbers behind the season’s biggest meeting
Is there horse racing on Boxing Day?
Horse racing is one of the few sports that takes place all year round. While there is understandably no action in the UK on Christmas Day, there is a long tradition of Boxing Day horse racing.
On the outskirts of London, Kempton Park racecourse hosts the biggest event of the season: the Kempton Christmas Festival.
This features 12 quality races over two days – the 26th and 27th of December – including the prestigious King George VI Chase.
King George VI Chase Day
The first day of the festival is Boxing Day, with the gates opening at 10am and the first of the six races at 12.45pm. The main event – the King George VI Chase, which gives its name to the whole day – is scheduled for 3.05pm.
The King George VI Chase is one of the most famous races in the UK calendar, first run in 1937 and named after the then newly-crowned English monarch, father of Queen Elizabeth II.
Desert Orchid Chase Day
The second day of the festival is named after one of the most legendary horses to grace Kempton. Desert Orchid won the King George VI Chase in 1986 and then three times in succession from 1988 to 1990. He died in 2006, shortly before the inaugural running of the race that is now named after him.
Who will win the King George VI Chase?
Whoever wins the King George VI Chase this year, there’s a good chance that their name will be a familiar one. More than half of the 70 runnings of this race to date have been won by a horse that had either triumphed before or would go on to win it again in the future.
Most recently Clan des Obeaux won back-to-back races in 2018 and 2019. Despite finishing third last year he is still a force to be reckoned with and could become the fourth horse to win the race three times.
Also among this year’s favourites is last year’s winner Frodon, who made history as the first champion with a female jockey, Bryony Frost. In 2021 he could become the 16th horse to win multiple times and the 12th to do so in consecutive years.
Which trainers are the most successful?
One man in particular has dominated this race in recent years. Paul Nicholls has enjoyed the most success of any trainer with 12 wins out of a possible 24 since 1997, including all of the last three years.
The last two horses to win the race – Clan des Obeaux and Frodon – are both Nicholls-trained and are among the favourites again this year.
Over the last 10 races, more than half of Nicholls’ horses – 11 out of 18 – have placed, which is the best record of any trainer competing in 2021 and with at least three prior entries.
Nicky Henderson and Colin Tizzard are the only other winning trainers in the last decade, each producing two winners compared with Nicholls’ six.
Despite the dominance of Irish-trained horses at other big festivals like Cheltenham, Ireland has not produced a winner of the King George VI Chase since 2005.
Back then, the now-retired Tom Taaffe coached Kicking King to a second win in a row, building on fellow countryman Willie Mullins’ success with Florida Pearl in 2001.
That could all change this year with two Henry de Bromhead horses fancied to do well.
After a successful 2021 which has seen him train the winners of both the Grand National and Cheltenham Gold Cup, there will surely not be a better opportunity for an Irish revival at Kempton.