Horse racing fans are in for a festive treat on Boxing Day as the Grade 1 King George VI Chase will unfold in a blaze of excitement. The greatest trainers, jockeys and runners in the National Hunt scene will converge upon Kempton Park for the £250,000 contest, and viewers should expect fireworks. Here are the top five leading contenders to seize glory in the biggest race of the season so far:
Nicky Henderson’s nine-year-old is the antepost favourite after romping to victory with a classy performance in this race last year. He justified his status as favourite by digging deep to hold off the spirited challenge of Double Shuffle and clinch a famous win. He then went into the biggest race of the season, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, as the favourite, but he was narrowly beaten by Native River. He gave a distinctly underwhelming performance in his return to action this season, finishing fifth of five in last month’s Betfair Chase, but that can be excused due to the bizarre stiffness of the fences. He should fare much better in friendlier conditions at Kempton and he is the clear favourite. He looked on course to win it in 2016, but he suffered a fall at the final fence, allowing Thistlecrack to take the top prize. But he bounced back in style last year and he should relish another crack at it.
This horse is appropriately named as he has raced just nine times since his 2015 debut. He will be making his first start in 10 months, but he has won his last seven contests and he heads into the big race in formidable form. His winning streak stretches back to January 2016, and young trainer Ruth Jefferson expects him to thrive as long as the ground is not too quick. She earmarked this race for him a long time ago, believing it will suit his strengths, and if it is on the slow side of good she will unleash him. Waiting Patiently was last seen prevailing in an epic clash with Cue Card to seize the Ascot Chase in February, a performance that gave Jefferson her first Grade 1 winner. She has big boots to fill after replacing her late father Malcolm, but early signs are positive and it will be interesting to see how Waiting Patiently gets on at Kempton on December 26.
Paul Nicholls looms large over this race after securing a record nine victories over the years. Five of them came from the legendary Kauto Star, who won four on the bounce between 2006 and 2009 and then returned with another sensational victory in 2011. Nicholls then saddled 2013 winner Silviniaco Conti, who defended his crown in style in 2014, so he must be taken very seriously indeed. He has decided to put Politologue forward for this race, his first crack at three miles, and he insists the seven-year-old grey gelding can handle the step up in trip. He went as far as comparing Politologue with Kauto Star, which is high praise indeed, and punters that take a look at the betting on this race will see how highly the odds compilers rate his chances of success. He has nine wins from 17 starts and Nicholls believes the right-handed track will suit his strengths, so he is definitely one to watch out for.
Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old claimed the biggest prize in jumps racing when he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. He is a real superstar and he has placed in 19 out of 22 races, most of which have been at the highest level. He was third in the 2017 Gold Cup and he has also won the Hennessy Gold Cup and the Mildmay Novices’ Chase, while he finished second at the Betfair Chase last month. Native River did not compete in last year’s King George VI Chase, as he was busy winning the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, but he will be among the leading lights at this year’s renewal.
Bristol De Mai
This talented seven-year-old delivered another fine performance to win the Betfair Chase for a second year running in November. It means he is the only horse still in contention for the £1 million bonus that comes with victory in the Jumps Triple Crown. All he needs to do now is pull off the simple feat of winning the King George VI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March and the prize will be his. Bristol De Mai loves soft conditions and he could well annihilate this field if the ground is sloppy at Kempton on Boxing Day. He has placed in 21 out of 24 runs throughout his illustrious career and he could be another popular each-way shout, particularly if the weather goes in his favour.