Kempton Winter Festival Betting Tips – 26th December 2017

Kempton’s two day Winter Festival begins on Boxing Day and the excitement is already palpable as we approach the big occasion. This has been Kempton’s showpiece event for some time but there is looking like being very few winters of racing left at the Surrey course.

Earlier in the year plans were revealed to close the racecourse in order to pave the way for 3,000 new homes. Racing is expected to continue at Kempton until at least 2021 but it will be a huge loss to the National Hunt scene when it eventually bows out.

Nicky Henderson was one who was quick to express his disappointment at the announcement tweeting that it was “Very sad news indeed”. However, with Kempton the nearest course to London it is hoped the money raised from the sale of the valuable land can be used for the overall good of the sport.

For now things will proceed as usual however and this means a fantastic schedule of Boxing Day racing. Stars of the show are the two Grade 1 events, the Christmas Hurdle and the King George VI Chase which will both be televised live on ITV if you’re in the UK. We’ll take a closer look at both these prestigious events here and pick out the horses who look most likely to join the talented list of former winners.

  • Christmas Hurdle – Beveur D’Air (1/3 at Betfair)
  • King George VI Chase – Might Bite (6/4 at Betfair)

2:30pm – Unibet Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1), 2m

This race is known for having a small but high class field and this year is no exception. Just the seven entries have been made although it looks as though Faugheen is almost certain to drop out. The two time former winner of this race would have been one of the leading contenders but Willie Mullins looks set to give him a run in the Ryanair Hurdle instead. This is brilliant news for Nicky Henderson whose Beveur D’Air faces one less strong challenger now.

Unless something dramatic happens shortly before the start of the race, the six-year-old Beveur D’Air will begin the race as the odds-on favourite. Looking at his record this will come as little surprise as he’s on a run of seven consecutive races undefeated. It’s not low level contests he’s been winning either, the bay gelding triumphed in the Aintree Hurdle and Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy last season. This season began in kind with a Fighting Fifth Hurdle crown earlier in the month.

The easy win at Newcastle was the perfect way to warm-up to a race like this and the ground-versatile favourite looks like being unstoppable at Kempton. My Tent or Yours may be able to finish second to his stablemate, just as he did twice last season, but don’t expect him to produce an upset. The 10-year-old has not been the same since his serious injury in 2014 and although he won the International Hurdle recently, this isn’t enough to make you think he stands a chance of more glory in a contest such as this one.

The New One finished runner up in the International Hurdle so his chances in this race seem even slimmer than My Tent Or Yours. Defi Du Seuil is another outsider who looks best avoided here. The four-year-old thoroughly impressed last season but his age is a big concern as there has been just one winner this young since 1988. The year older Melon is an eye catching alternative though. He didn’t really do himself justice when third in the International Hurdle but the beaten favourite could well bounce back with a stronger showing here.

Beveur D’Air – 1/3 at Betfair

3:05pm – 32Red King George VI Chase (Grade 1), 3m

Douvan was one of the early entries for this race but lameness has forced Willie Mullins to rule the seven-year-old out for the season. The former Arkle winner would not have been the favourite here though, that is a title which Might Bite (6/4, Betfair) looks set to hold on to. You may recall him following his incredible antics at the Cheltenham Festival earlier in the year, veering off wildly to the right when miles clear in the RSA Novices’ Chase. A passing jockey-less horse straightened him up just in time though and the bay gelding was able to claim the win by a nose.

It would be unfair to think that the eight-year-old is always this erratic however and he won his other three races last year in a far more professional manner. A slight concern is that he fell in this race last year but had it not been for the tumble at the last, he would’ve won the race with ease. To tackle the fences this time, the choice of jockey will very important and Ruby Walsh has recently declared his interest in riding the favourite. If Nicky Henderson makes the right call then Might Bite could well make up for last year’s cruel disappointment.

It was Whisper who almost made Might Bite pay for his blunder at Cheltenham. The nine-year-old has a chase record reading three wins and four second place finishes from seven starts so his consistency is impressive. He doesn’t make a more tempting option than his stablemate but at 10/1 with Ladbrokes he’s far from a bad each way option. Trading a little shorter is Fox Norton (7/1, BetVictor), runner up in the Queen Mother last March. Over two miles he’d be one to back but without a single win further than two and a half miles, he’s unlikely to have the legs for this trip, especially with the ground unlikely to be in his favour.

Bristol De Mai (7/2, Betfred) has seen his odds tumble for this race after an incredible 57 length win in the Betfair Chase. Wearing earplugs seemed to help but it was the heavy going at Haydock Park which played the biggest part in his dominance. He’s one who thrives in boggy conditions and he’ll need things to be really muddy in Kempton to make him worth backing. Regardless of conditions, concerns will remain over Thistlecrack (13/2, Betfair) following his poor seasonal debut. He was the 11/10 favourite at Newbury but ended up 13 lengths behind the winner. It was the nine-year-old’s first outing since January following a tendon injury and he looks like needing more time to find his old form.

Might Bite to win – 6/4 at Betfair

About the Meeting

The Christmas period is a real bonanza for sports lovers, and racing fans certainly aren’t left out. The pick of the lot on the equine front over the holiday period is this meeting, as Kempton Park lays on the most festive of festivals. For many the big race of the King George VI Chase is now firmly part of the Boxing Day routine, right up there with the left-over turkey and yet another mince pie.

One of the greatest chase contests of the season is undoubtedly the main course, but there’s a lot more to this meeting besides, including a couple of races named in honour of two of the all-time greats of the game a classy Grade 1 Hurdle and a clutch of handicapping action. Overall this is a real post-Christmas cracker of a meeting.

King George VI Chase

For many this meeting really begins and ends with the headline event. That is perhaps understandable as this three mile Grade 1 contest for four year olds and up is one of the most truly historic races under either code of the entire season. Many a legend of the jumping game has safely negotiated the 18 fences of the course on their way into the history books over the years, including the likes of Mill House, Arkle, Wayward Lad, Desert Orchid, One Man and of course five-time hero, Kauto Star.

With excellent prize money on offer – £250,000 in 2018 – this race will continue to attract the very best chasers in the game. Another race to have attracted a number of multiple winners in the past, it is the appeal of seeing those old favourites return for another crack at the prize which plays a large part in the enduring appeal of this fantastic race.

Kauto Star’s sublime performances will live long in the memory as the Paul Nicholls-trained stead won in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. Desert Orchid’s four wins from 1986 to 1990 also caught the public’s imagination, while the back-to-back victories for Silviniaco Conti in 2013 and 2014 gave Paul Nicholls yet more success in this race.

While this race is open to runners from the age of four, to date not a single four year old has managed to win. To be fair, it’s extremely rare for a four year old to be entered into the race. There has only ever been one five year old winner, Manicou in 1950. A few pensioners have had success at the other end of the age scale though. Two of the aforementioned superstars, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star, won as 11 year olds, but you have to go back to 1937 to find the oldest winner: Southern Hero who was 12 years old when creaking to victory.

Other Key Races

Kauto Star Novices’ Chase

Having won the King George VI Chase on no fewer than five occasions, if there’s one horse who deserves to have a race at this meeting named in his honour, it is undoubtedly the Paul Nicholls-trained legend, Kauto Star. Formerly known as the Feltham Novices’ Chase, this 3m Grade 1 contest, open to novice chasers aged four and older, was renamed to pay tribute to one of the greatest chasers in a generation in 2012.

Kauto Star was of course famously the first horse to ever regain his Cheltenham Gold Cup crown having lost it. Fittingly this event has proved to be a stepping stone towards future heroics in the Cheltenham showpiece, with both 2009 winner Long Run and 2014 champ Coneygree going on to land the Prestbury Park big one.

Christmas Hurdle

It’s not all about the chasers on Boxing Day though, with the classiest hurdlers in the game also being given their chance to shine in this Grade 1 contest held over two miles. Speed over the obstacles is the name of the game in this event for hurdlers aged four and older, which was first run in its current guise back in 1969.

One feature of this race over the years has been that if a horse has shown they have what it takes to land the prize once, then they may well do so again, with the contest featuring seven dual winners up to and including Faugheen’s second success in 2015. Attracting the real cream of the crop from this division, previous winners, Lanzarote, Dawn Run, Kribenis, Faugheen and Buveur D’air all also won the Champion Hurdle itself over the course of their careers.

Desert Orchid Chase

While Desert Orchid didn’t quite manage to win the King George VI five times, he did rack up four successes between 1986 and 1990, and everyone’s favourite grey also gets a race named in his honour. Acting as the centrepiece on Day 2 of the meeting, this Grade 2 chase open to runners aged four and older was introduced to the card in 2006, shortly after the death of that grand old warrior of a horse.

Champion chasers, Special Tiara, Sire de Grugy, and of course the incomparable Sprinter Sacre have all taken this since its inauguration, giving some idea as to the class of horse it often takes to prevail.

History

Introduced in 1937 and named after the monarch at the time, the King George VI Chase, around which this whole meeting is built, took a break during the war years but returned in 1947. It was in this year that the race was first run on Boxing Day, and it has remained in situ ever since rapidly becoming an integral part of the horse racing fabric. The quality of the meeting has only increased over the years with the Boxing Day Card – featuring three Grade 1’s – in particular being one of the most anticipated single days of racing of the season.

That inaugural running of the King George VI Chase remains in the record books – as of 2018 – with the 12 year old, Southern Hero, still the oldest ever winner in the history of the race. That’s a benchmark which will be pretty tough to break in the modern, increasingly competitive racing world, but there is one record which will never be taken away from this meeting. That came in 2015 when Tea For Two came home in front in the Kauto Star Novices Chase, making jockey Lizzie Kelly the first female rider ever to win a Grade One contest in Britain. Just one of many unforgettable moments to take place here over the years, and there will no doubt be plenty more to come.