For any keen National Hunt racing enthusiast, Christmas simply wouldn’t be Christmas without the veritable feast of action that takes place around the country on Boxing Day, with the highlight undoubtedly being the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park.
The Grade One contest was first held in 1937 and was named after the newly crowned King at the time. It was won by Southern Hero who, even to this day, remains the oldest winner of the race at 12 years old.
The King George VI Chase is synonymous with some of the most famous names in racing with Arkle, Pendil, Wayward Lad and Kauto Star all taking their place on the roll of honour, with Clan Des Obeaux joining that esteemed list in 2018.
But who will join those greats in 2019? Well, that remains to be seen and many of you will have taken an ante post view already so we wish you luck with your St Stephen’s Day fancy.
In the meantime, let’s take a look back at what we consider to be six of the best King George’s of the last 40 years:
Teeton Mill (1998)
In time honoured tradition yet another grey won the King George VI Chase in 1998 in the shape of the Venetia Williams-trained Teeton Mill at odds of 7/2.
This “White Christmas” phenomenon followed on from the likes of Desert Orchid and One Man who had dominated the Boxing Day showpiece for the previous decade.
In testing conditions, Teeton Mill and his rider Normal Williamson jumped their rivals into submission one by one, beating Escartefigue by 6 lengths, with a distance back to the third, Imperial Call. The writing was on the wall for many a long way from home.
The popular grey landed the Badger Ales Trophy, Hennessy Gold Cup and the King George VI Chase in what was a magnificent spell of action in late 1998 for all of those who were involved with the horse.
Wayward Lad (1982)
The first of Wayward Lad’s three King George’s came in 1982 when he beat the Mackeson winner Fifty Dollars More in an exciting finish, with Dickinson’s other runner - the 1979 and 1980 winner Silver Buck, back in third.
Trained by Michael Dickinson at the time, Wayward Lad was the new kid on the block in 1982 and his jockey John Francome took great glee at how circumstances had panned out that particular Boxing Day.
Francome said: “I remember the year I won on Wayward Lad taking great pleasure in the success because the runner-up, Fifty Dollars More, was a horse I’d been jocked off from Fred Winter’s yard, because he was owned by Sheikh Ali Abu Khamsin who retained Richard Linley.”
The Fellow (1991)
When Francois Doumen first introduced himself to the British racing public on Boxing Day 1987, it was on the back of the dethroning of the people’s favourite Desert Orchid at even money by his chaser Nupsala, an unconsidered 25/1 shot.
Four years later, Doumen was back on British shores, rattling feathers again with an even better chaser than before, this time one called The Fellow.
After three wins from five races at Auteuil, including the Grand Steeplechase de Paris, the six-year-old put in a faultless display of jumping at Kempton to lead approaching the last, scoring decisively in the end from Docklands Express at the generous starting price of 10/1.
The Fellow came back the following year to capture the King George once again and after two previous near misses, he finally became a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in 1994.
He will always epitomise a great era of French raiders that regularly competed at Kempton and will always be remembered in the King George VI Chase history books.
One Man (1996)
One Man, in December 1996, won the race in a record time of five minutes and 45 seconds on good to firm ground, bringing home the trophy for the North once again after capturing it twelve months earlier.
He was trained by the late Gordon Richards, who nicknamed the horse his “bouncing rubber ball”.
When his 32-year-old jockey Richard Dunwoody (MBE) won the King George in 1996 he became the first rider to win it four times. This record stood until 2011 when Ruby Walsh made it a total of five victories in the race- all aboard Kauto Star.
Kauto Star (2011)
One of the most memorable performances in the history of jumps racing was when Kauto Star won his fifth King George at the Surrey track.
The 11-year-old, who appeared to be on the wane when beaten in the same race 12 months prior, defeated the reigning champion, Long Run, by a length and a quarter, with a yawning gap back to third-placed Captain Chris. In doing so he surpassed Desert Orchid as the most successful horse in the history of the race.
Kauto Star, a 3-1 chance in the horse racing odds, jumped superbly throughout the race and always had the measure over the evens favourite Long Run.
Five King George victories is going to be a record that we probably won’t see equalled or beaten in our own lifetimes, so just reflect and rejoice at what Kauto Star achieved in this video:
Desert Orchid (1990)
For one generation of racing fans, Christmas will forever be associated with one horse – Desert Orchid.
Between 1986 and 1990, “Dessie” as he was affectionately known by the racing fraternity and the wider general public, won the King George VI Chase four times, with the 1990 renewal probably going down as being his best one, simply due to the fact he did it gutsily at the age of eleven.
The field that day was a vintage one. Desert Orchid’s eight rivals were made up of Celtic Shot, Sabin Du Loir, Toby Tobias, The Fellow, Nick The Brief, Panto Prince, Espy and Prize Asset.
As they approached the first fence in the home straight, Desert Orchid began to pull several lengths clear of his rivals which sent the assembled crowd delirious with excitement.
This was Dessie, this was Christmas, this was another date with destiny- the crescendo of noise from the roaring masses almost appeared to lift the galloping grey further and further away from his toiling rivals in behind.
This was a King George that those who witnessed it in person, they will never forget.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Alan Crowhurst / AP Photo*