The highlight of the racing calendar over the busy Christmas period is undoubtedly the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
The race, which is run over a distance of three miles, negotiating eighteen fences, is now the second most prestigious chase in England, surpassed only by the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The last ten renewals of the race have been dominated by horses trained by Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson, whilst Colin Tizzard has trained the last two winners.
Here is a look at the trends and statistics on the King George VI Chase based on the last ten years:
It could be argued that horses aged seven to eight have the slight edge over their older peers in the race in recent years, but it is not a clear-cut trend.
- Nine of the last ten winners were officially rated 172 or higher.
- Nine of the last ten winners ran in the last forty days.
- Ten of the last ten winners had won over three miles plus.
- Ten of the last ten winners had won at least one Grade One chase.
- Nine of the last ten winners had won at Kempton before over the race distance.
- Paul Nicholls has won six of the last ten renewals.
- Nicky Henderson had notable success with Long Run in this race, winning it in 2010 and 2012.
- Colin Tizzard has won the last two renewals with Cue Card and Thistlecrack.
- Irish trained runners have a very poor record in this race, boasting just three winners in the last forty years. Those winners were: Florida Pearl (2001) and Kicking King (2004, 2005)
- Record of the previous year’s winner: 1132U1P2
- Betfair Chase winner: 17112112
- Cheltenham Gold Cup winner: 1112
- First three home in the Cheltenham Gold Cup: 311121P1U
- Charlie Hall Chase winner: P41
- The last ten winners came from the first three in the betting.
- Six favourites have won in the last ten renewals.
- All the winners since 2004 have been priced 9/2 or shorter.
The Main Protagonists
The RSA winner, who came down in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase 12 months ago with the race at his mercy, had a pipe opener at Sandown and is 13/8 in 888sport's horse racing markets to take the Boxing Day blue-riband.
Asked on the Luck On Sunday programme whether Might Bite was doing better on the gallops than he was last season, Henderson said: “Yes is the answer to that, yes he definitely is. I think we always thought he was a nice horse in the making whereas now his standard of work is definitely higher this year than last year.
“We’re happy anyway. He’s been good; he had a school on Thursday and worked on Friday. That was good and we need to do one more bit of work this week.
“There’s quite a gap between that Sandown race and Boxing Day, but he's a clean-winded horse, he’s a big horse but not a big barrel of a horse that takes a huge amount of work. We can do it all at home and he hasn’t missed anything.”
Bristol De Mai
Nigel Twiston-Davies says Bristol De Mai is "in the form of his life" ahead of the King George VI Chase and insists he'll handle any ground on Boxing Day.
Speaking at a preview afternoon the trainer said: "We are very much looking forward to Kempton and it is where the talking ends. He will certainly run. Just because he has won in heavy ground, he moves like a good ground horse and he seems to cope with most things. I think he is a very good horse.
When asked about the Triple Crown initiative Twiston-Davies said “"We are absolutely blinkered on the bonus - it's a very exciting idea.”He won a good race on the bridle at Haydock and it didn't seem to take anything out of him. You would be a fool to say it hasn't, but you don't notice and he is in the form of his life."
Fox Norton & Thistlecrack
Until recently Colin Tizzard was intent on having a three-pronged attack upon this year’s King George, but as he revealed at Cheltenham this week there are new retirement plans for the veteran chaser Cue Card which do not include another tilt at the Boxing Day race.
So the two runners that Tizzard will send out this time are last year's winner Thistlecrack, and Fox Norton, the runner-up in the recently run Tingle Creek Chase.
“Thistlecrack schooled well this week,” Tizzard said. “We might have been a bit kind to him (before Newbury) but we were always catching up, and always thought we needed a race for the King George. He’s come out of it and looks completely different, he’s tightened up and schooled well, so he’ll do plenty of work next week.”
"Fox Norton will be left in the King George at the five-day stage. He's come out of the Tingle Creek very well.”
Fox Norton went off the odds-on favourite in the Tingle Creek and despite a late surge could not reel back in the Paul Nicholls trained Politologue.
Whisper, who finished just behind Might Bite at Cheltenham and was beaten a hare’s breadth in the “Hennessey”, is set to take his stablemate on again.
“I spoke to Dai (Walters, owner) the day before yesterday and he said ‘come on, where else have we got to go for?” Henderson said. “We could wait for the Cotswold Chase but that’s a month later. At his age, I think Dai rather feels the race is there, the prize-money is there, an awful lot of things can go wrong and he feels inclined to take Might Bite and everyone else on again.”
If Whisper wins on Boxing Day we will certainly not be calling Mr Henderson careless by any means!
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*