horse-racing

A Preview of the William Hill Christmas Festival: Who Will Win the King George VI Chase?

December 22, 2016

- Grant Whittington

Christmas is a time of giving, and this is certainly an ethos that the British race season likes to adhere to. After a thrilling, year-long flat racing season, for example, we are now enjoying a series of hurdle meetings that are as keenly contested as they are popular. The William Hill Christmas Festival represents the pinnacle of these meetings, and it will take place between December 26th and 27th this year at the iconic Kempton Park.

While this festival includes several premium races such as the two-mile Christmas Hurdle and the three-mile Feltham Novices Chase, it is the King George VI chase that truly captures the imagination of fans. Considered to be the mid-season championship for chasers, this is also one of the historic and prestigious races in the UK calendar.

The History of the King George VI Chase and This Season’s Runners

Perhaps superseded only by the Cheltenham Gold Cup in terms of history and prestige, the King George VI Chase is a Grade I, three-mile race open to the best thoroughbreds in the country. While it has a relatively brief but intriguing history, it was first run in 1937 in honour of the newly crowned monarch. The race was only run twice prior to the commencement of the Second World War, however, as the famous Kempton Park was temporarily transformed into a make-shift prisoner of war camp.

There have been many famous winners of this race, with 14 thoroughbreds having emerged victorious on more than one occasion. Of these, the renowned Kauto Star has been the most successful, romping to victory on no less than five occasions. The much-loved Desert Orchid also enjoyed the iconic Kempton track as a part of this event, winning four times during his illustrious racing career. In this respect, this years runners will be looking to join an illustrious group of horses and riders who have claimed the prestigious George VI crown for themselves.

So who exactly are the favourites for this year’s race? Although all of the runners for this year’s race have yet to be confirmed, the Colin Tizzard-trained duo of Cue Card and Thistlecrack are thought to be the leaders of the pack. While Cue Card remains the overwhelming favourite for the King George VI Chase at present, however, Thistlecrack enjoyed a stellar season in 2015 when he recorded three wins at Grade I level and closed the gap on his illustrious stablemate.

This has put him ahead of schedule, with Tizzard and jockey Richard Scudamore now confident of winning one of the biggest prizes in hurdling.

The Bottom Line: Who Will Win the King George VI Chase?

Currently priced at around 11/10, Thistlecrack offers relatively good value and even as a novice is well-placed to challenge Cue Card and win the King George VI Chase. While Josses Hill also offers significant value at 14/1, it is likely that the race will be contested by the two stablemates at the top of the racecard. It will therefore be a question of whether youth can prevail at the expense of experience, or whether knowledge and know-hot will supersede the raw talent of Thistlecrack.

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