Kempton Winter Festival Betting Tips – 26th & 27th December 2018

Everybody has their own Christmas traditions and for many that includes making the trip to Kempton Park on Boxing Day to take in the first day of the Kempton Winter Festival.

The standout races from the two-day meeting all take place on Wednesday, with a host of stars ready to do battle for some massive prizes. The main event is the King George VI Chase which has had some memorable winners over the years.

To make the most of the opportunity ahead we’ve picked out the best bets from Boxing Day in this preview of the Winter Festival.

News: No Altior but Stars Galore at Kempton

Altior may have extended his perfect record over fences with his victory in the Tingle Creek Chase not so long ago but Nicky Henderson has resisted the temptation to test the Queen Mother Champion Chase winner over 3 miles in the King George VI Chase.

His absence is a real shame but there is no shortage of stars heading to Kempton. Buveur d’Air is bidding for the second leg in what would be another Triple Crown of Hurdling triumph whilst there are Grade 1 winners galore in the King George, including the defending champ and the current Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.

Weather: Going Set to be Good to Soft

Kempton Weather Forecast

Forecast via Met Office

It’s very rare for there to be a white Christmas at Kempton but tough going is often a feature. There certainly won’t be any snow in the area during this year’s Winter Festival but there is going to be some rain.

Those heading to Kempton on Boxing Day should be able to largely stay dry but it’s going to be wet on Thursday. From a betting perspective that means focus should be turned towards horses who have a proven record of winning in testing conditions.

Boxing Day – Defending Champions Up To Test?

Three Grade 1 contests, one over hurdles and two over fences, take top billing on Boxing Day. The quality of horses competing in both the Christmas Hurdle and the King George is incredibly high but from a betting perspective it’s all about last year’s winners – Buveur d’Air and Might Bite.

1:20 32Red.com Chase

Class 3, 2m4½f

The first race to consider on Boxing Day is the 32Red.com Chase, a novices’ limited handicap. The race is open to novices aged four and older with a maximum official rating of 140 so this really is a contest for horses with a lot still to prove over fences. Some big name trainers have entries to the 32Red.com Chase including Nicky Henderson who is set to send Pacific De Baune.

Henderson’s five-year-old had the perfect start to life as a steeplechaser. Pacific De Baune won a three horse race in which there was one faller by 99 lengths over two miles at Warwick but it was Henderson’s horse who had jumping problems next time out. Jumping low like he did at Doncaster is an acceptable mistake for an inexperienced operator over fences and he can get back to winning ways at 15/2 with bet365.

1:55 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase

Grade 1, 3m

The Kauto Star Novices’ Chase is the first of three Grade 1s taking place at Kempton on Boxing Day. Open to novices aged four years and older this three mile contest is named after the legendary Kauto Star who won the King George VI (run later in the day) five times. We don’t have a horse of Kauto Star’s quality in the field for this race but we do have some improving types who should combine to create an entertaining renewal.

Nicky Henderson’s Santini is the worthy favourite at a general 13/8 but the betting advice for this one is to back Bags Groove each way at 7/1 with Betfair. Harry Fry’s seven-year-old took the competition apart over the best part of three miles last time out at Huntingdon so will have no problem with the trip. The only question is whether he’s able to replicate that sort of performance against better opposition but at 7/1 he’s got to be worthy of support.

2:30 Unibet Christmas Hurdle

Grade 1, 2m

The Unibet Christmas Hurdle is one of the biggest hurdle races of the season. This Grade 1 contest is the second leg of the British Triple Crown of Hurdling and the bookies are clear as can be that the winner of the first leg, Buveur d’Air, will follow up with another highly impressive win.

There was an awful lot of interest in Buveur d’Air’s last performance in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle where he took on the star of last season’s novices’ division, Samcro. The younger horse put up a big fight and it was neck and neck coming to the last flight but Buveur d’Air pulled away prompting comparisons with the great Istabraq. He looks every bit as good as when winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton 12 months ago so Buveur d’Air is very much the horse the others have to beat at 2/7 with Betfair.

3:05 King George VI Chase

Grade 1, 3m

Following hot on the heels of the Christmas Hurdle comes the King George VI Chase, another Grade 1 but this time over fences. This three mile race is one of the highlights of the chasing season and has been won by some of the best top level operators in history. 11 horses remain in the running to join the likes of Arkle, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star all of whom have won the King George in its 81 year history.

Last year’s winner, Might Bite, has been sitting top of the ante post betting for the King George for some time. That’s despite the fact that he was very disappointing when finishing at the back of the pack on his seasonal reappearance at Haydock. He does love Kempton and rarely performs well on his first race back after a break so connections harbour a lot of hope that he will be back to his very best and reward favourite backers at 5/2 with Coral.

The question about Might Bite though is whether he can be considered good value when he’ll have to beat such a high class field. Bristol De Mai beat the favourite last time out, Politologue won his first assignment of the season, and the 2016 winner of this race, Thistlecrack, may just be back to his best. However, the inevitability of improvement from Might Bite and his love for Kempton makes him the worthy favourite.

Thursday – Plenty for Punters to Consider on Meeting’s Second Day

The second day of the Kempton Winter Festival may not quite have the star quality of Boxing Day but there is still an awful lot for punters to get their teeth into. Some of the most promising novice chasers around will contest the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, Grade 1 winners will line up in the Desert Orchid Chase whilst opportunity abounds in the 32Red.com Handicap.

1:20 Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase

Grade 2, 2m

Like the Kauto Star Chase the day before, the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase is named after a star of racing’s past who lit up the Winter Festival at Kempton. Connections of any horse in the field for this Grade 2 race would love their charge to have half of the career of Wayward Lad and the bookies’ favourite, Kalashnikov, really does have the chance to be something special.

Having contested many of the biggest novice hurdle races last season, Amy Murphy has wasted no time in sending her five-year-old chasing. Kalashnikov has already showed a real aptitude for chasing with wins in his first two performances over fences and he’s getting a lot of support for win number three at 4/6 with Coral. He’s the ante post favourite for the Arkle at Cheltenham and can prove his class again with another commanding win.

2:30 Desert Orchid Chase

Grade 2, 2m

The Desert Orchid Chase is a chance for minimum distance chasers to grab some of the spotlight at Kempton. It’s one of the newest races at the meeting having been first run in 2006 but as it replaced the Castleford Chase it was introduced with a lot of prestige. Some quality horses including Voy Por Ustedes and Sprinter Sacre are on the winners’ list but we could see the best winner of the lot this year if Altior competes.

Although we know that Altior will not take part in the King George, it’s possible he will take part in the Desert Orchid Chase so it may be worth avoiding the favourite and instead betting on God’s Own each way. Tom George’s 10-year-old looked in great shape in both of his starts so far so may be the one to beat if Altior is left at home.

3:05 32Red.com Handicap Chase

Class 2, 3m

Thursday’s final big race is the 32Red.com Handicap Chase. A full contingent of 18 horses will be competing for this valuable handicap which is run over three miles. The betting markets paint a picture of a competitive race in which there are several potential winners so it’s very much the sort of race that lends itself to each way betting.

Deauville Dancer may well be the one to back each way at a best price of 9/1 with bet365 despite the fact that he will have to carry 11st 5lb. The competition for a place in this handicap means that he is not top weight even though he was penalised for winning a handicap at Kempton in his last appearance. The way that he came on strong in the latter stages of that recent 2m4½f race suggests both that he has the stamina and that the handicapper is yet to get the better of him.

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.

A Complete History of the Kempton Winter Festival

Christmas Day is the traditional time for opening presents but every year Kempton Park hands us a belated gift of their own in the form of the Winter Festival. Run on the 26th & 27th of December, this festive meeting is one of the most important on the National Hunt calendar, with Boxing Day’s King George VI one of the most illustrious chases around.

Kempton has held two days of racing at this time of year for decades but the idea of the ‘Winter Festival’ is more of a recent concept. Although hard to pinpoint its first appearance, what we do know more about is the history of the races that form this much loved National Hunt meeting and how the festival slowly developed over the years.

1937 – King George VI Chase founded

Just two months after King George VI began his reign, Kempton Park paid tribute to the monarch in the form of a new race. Winner of the inaugural renewal, 12-year-old Southern Hero, remains the oldest champion the event has seen. It wasn’t much of a fitting royal tribute to begin with though as only four horses contested the opening two renewals before the race was put on hold due to World War II.

As British forces used Kempton racecourse as a prisoner-of-war camp, there was no running of the chase between 1939 and 1946. After making its return in 1947, the King George VI Chase moved from its previous slot in February to Boxing Day, where it has largely remained ever since.

1969 – Christmas arrives

A two mile hurdle had taken place at Kempton on Boxing Day earlier in the 1960s but only during the final year of the decade was the Christmas Hurdle born. Originally the Kempton Park Handicap Hurdle, the new race emerged following two successive cancellations in 1967 and 68.

1970 – King George cancelled again

The 1960s had been a turbulent time in the history of the King George VI Chase with four cancellations during the decade. In 1961, 1962 and 1968, frost led to the abandonment of the race while in 1967 foot-and-mouth restrictions led to the same outcome. A new decade failed to bring in a positive change as in 1970 snow forced officials to cancel the showpiece event for the fifth time in just a 10 year period.

1979 – Birds Nest handed the win

Although Birds Nest was a temperamental horse with a tendency to veer left under pressure, it was not him who was penalised in this year’s running of the Christmas Hurdle. The stewards instead punished Celtic Ryde following an enquiry, demoting him from first to second with Birds Nest subsequently declared the winner. While a big blow to take for connections of Celtic Ryde, the four-year-old was able to win the race the following year.

1981 – Frost returns

Having enjoyed 10 frost-free December meetings, the ice cold grip soon returned, forcing the cancellation of the 1981 festival. All races ended up being cancelled with none of them rearranged to a different date or location. This stands as the last year in which we failed to see the running of the King George.

1990 – Orchid makes it four

Wayward Lad’s record as the most successful horse in the King George didn’t last long as Desert Orchid went one better just five years after the former’s triple triumph. The fourth and final win for the David Elsworth-trained horse came in 1990 and how he made light work of it. The 9/4 favourite strolled to a 12 length win during what proved to be his final Grade 1 success. He did attempt to make it five on his final career appearance 12 months later but fell three from the line.

1995 – King George spared

Snow and frost led to the cancellation of the Winter Festival but organisers were able to find a new host for the King George. The race was added to Sandown’s card on 6th January and One Man, trained by Gordon Richards, produced the goods at the contingency venue. By also winning the following renewal at Kempton, he became the first horse to win the King George at two separate courses. He also stands as the only horse to win the race in the same calendar year.

1999 – Wayward Lad absent

Having been part of the Kempton schedule during he 1980s and 90s, the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase finds itself suddenly dropped. The minimum distance race, named after three-time King George hero Wayward Lad, didn’t feature at all on the National Hunt calendar but its period in the dark didn’t last long. In 2000 it returned with aplomb and five years later it moved up from a Class B contest to Grade 2.

2001 – Christmas Hurdle moved

As part of a festival reshuffle, organisers brought the Christmas Hurdle forward a day so that it joined the King George as part of Boxing Day racing.

2005 – Sandown steps in

Due to development work taking place at Kempton, mainly the installation of an all-weather floodlit course, the Winter Festival moved to Sandown situated just a few miles away. Only once did the two-day meet need to find a temporary home though as the construction work took just 11 months to complete.

2006 – Desert Orchid Chase introduced

In order to honour the death of everyone’s favourite grey, Desert Orchid, who had passed away just a few weeks earlier, organisers at Kempton Park introduced this chase on 27th December. They also had the ashes of the four time King George champion scattered on the racecourse before the event’s inaugural running. Making way for the new event on the National Hunt calendar was the Castleford Chase, formerly a Grade 2 chase but now a handicap affair at Wetherby.

2010 – Winter weather strikes again

Frost far more severe than expected led to the opening day of the Winter Festival being postponed. Temperatures in the early hours of Boxing Day reached -7C and things were little warmer when the sun rose. Initially Clerk of the Course Barney Clifford had hoped the King George could take place the following day but he later admitted defeat stating that there was no chance of the ground thawing in time.

Most scheduled races failed to feature as a result but new dates were found for the King George V and the Christmas Hurdle. The pair took place on 15th January 2011, handing Kauto Star the chance to win his fifth King George title. The postponement perhaps ended up working against the 4-7 favourite though as he only managed to finish third on the rearranged date.

2011 – Kauto stars in the record books

After the previous year’s disappointment, Kauto Star bounced back to secure an unprecedented fifth King George win, making him the outright most successful horse in the race. Nicky Henderson’s Long Run set off as the evens favourite but he left himself with too much work to do during the run-in.

Ruby Walsh, who had ridden Kauto Star to glory on the previous four occasions, was again on the mount and put in a truly faultless display. He too entered the record books as the leading King George jockey, beating the record previously set by Richard Dunwoody.

2013 – BHA confirms name change

A year after Kauto Star had made it a stunning five wins in the King George VI Chase, officials at Kempton added the horse’s name to the beginning of the Feltham Novices’ Chase. The change hadn’t received permanent approval but this followed in July 2013 with the race officially change to the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.

2015 – Kelly scores Grade One win

Lizzie Kelly makes history as she became the first female jockey to win a Group One race. The then 22-year-old did so on the back of regular acquaintance Tea For Two in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase. Previously the pair had enjoyed a good amount of success together but the Boxing Day win topped anything either had accomplished before.

2017 – Kempton under threat

In January 2017 it was announced that the Jockey Club was investigating selling Kempton Park. Under proposed plans the valuable land, just 15 miles from the centre of London, would be redeveloped as housing. The Jockey Club claimed they would be able to invest £500m into British racing but fans of the Winter Festival and in particular the King George, were aghast.

The fixture’s most famous race would probably relocate to Sandown but for many Boxing Day, Kempton and the King George VI Chase are as linked as Christmas and turkey. Thankfully, for now at least, it seems such plans have been shelved but it would be amazing were this issue not to come up again in the future.

2017 – Buveur d’Air secures second jewel in crown

The Triple Crown of Hurdling, which between 2006 and 2010 carried a £1,000,000 bonus, includes the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, the Christmas Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle. In 2017 Buveur d’Air became the sixth horse of the century to win the first two courtesy of his Boxing Day win but unlike the rest he later produced the goods at Cheltenham too. In doing so he became our first Triple Crown (of hurdling) champion since Kribensis who managed the feat in the 1989-90 season.

2018 – Altior shows more love for Kempton

Regular attendee of the Winter Festival, Altior, scored his most emphatic triumph yet during the festive meeting. Winning by 13 lengths on his Kempton debut on Boxing Day 2015, he won by an even more emphatic 18 lengths in the Wayward Lad Stakes the following year. Not done there however, the truly outstanding gelding finished 19 lengths clear of the field in the 2018 running of the Desert Orchid Chase. For years to come, the Nicky Henderson-trained horse will be remembered as one of the legends of the Winter Festival.