by ROI MADHAN THE biggest National Hunt race over the Christmas period takes place at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and features some of the best three-mile chasers from the UK and Ireland. I am, of course, talking about the King George VI Chase. This Grade 1 contest is open to horses aged four years and older and is now part of the William Hill Winter Festival, a two-day event that includes some of the most prestigious races of the season outside the Cheltenham Festival.
Current favourite for the 2014 King George is last year’s winner, the Paul Nicholls trained Silviniaco Conti. The eight-year-old managed to reverse the form of his defeat at the hands of Cue Card in the Betfair Chase and is the worthy 9/2 favourite on Betfair’s betting exchange. Trainer Paul Nicholls has an absolutely tremendous record in the King George, having won the race on eight different occasions. See More Business won twice for the Ditcheat handler in the 90s before the legend that is Kauto Star won an unprecedented five King George VI chases between 2006 and 2011. Ruby Walsh is the most successful jockey in the race’s history, having partnered Kauto to his five wins. Nicholls could be set to add an amazing ninth King George to his resume should Silviniaco manage to successfully defend his crown this year.
It was originally the flying grey Desert Orchid who captured the public’s imagination as far as the King George was concerned back in the late 80s and early 90s when he won the race four times. This brave thoroughbred was a winner of 34 of his 70 career starts, and some of his weight-carrying performances defied belief. It was very hard to see another horse capturing the imagination in the same way, but Kauto Star managed to do just that by winning the King George a record total of five times. What really set Kauto apart was his incredible comeback win in 2011 when he had looked like a spent force having been beaten by Long Run the previous year. The way Kauto Star managed to turn the form on its head during his final year in training was emotional for connections and racing fans alike. He also became the second oldest horse to win the race at age 11, with only Southern Hero who won the very first King George in 1937 older at 12 years.
One of the most interesting contenders for this year’s King George VI Chase is the Nicky Henderson trained Simonsig. The unbeaten chaser was an easy winner of the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival back in March and could easily take the step up in trip in his stride having won over two miles and five furlongs during his hurdling career. From nine starts, Simonsig has only tasted defeat once, which came in his third start when he finished second to Fingal Bay in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown.
Simonsig then went on to win the Grade 1 version of that race at the 2012 Festival and has not looked back since, winning four races in succession, all at odds-on. When you take this horse’s excellent record into consideration, the 11/2 on offer at betfair.com could turn out to be a real value bet come December 26. The fact that the Henderson inmate is also a grey horse makes me even more keen on his chances when it comes to the King George. Simonsig will be bidding to emulate the other greys who have won the race down the years, like One Man and the legend that is Desert Orchid.