Kempton Christmas Festival: Race List & Meeting Info

With a full football fixture list and more horse racing than you can shake a Christmas cracker at, it’s with very good reason that Boxing Day is without doubt one of the biggest days of the year for fans of sport and betting.

Of all the action on offer, there is one event which stands tall above the rest as the sporting contest most associated with 26th December. That event is of course Kempton Park racecourse’s truly historic King George VI Chase.

There’s just something about the staying chaser which seems to endear itself to the affections of the public, and this race has witnessed some of the all-time greats in that sphere. The sport’s most famous grey, Desert Orchid, put his rivals to the sword on four occasions around here, whilst the sensational and very much-loved Kauto Star topped that with five victories.

No doubt that element of the returning hero is one of the major reasons why viewers continue to tune in year upon year, to one of the few races which truly transcends the sport.

Of course it’s not all about the big one. A race of such magnitude deserves a strong supporting cast, and Kempton certainly doesn’t let us down in that regard, laying on a whole two days of action over what has come to be known as the Christmas Festival. Get ready to settle in with that leftover turkey for the best two days of racing action that the winter months have to offer.


Day One Races - King George VI Chase Day

RaceGradeLengthPrize MoneyAges
Novices’ Hurdle Class 2 2m £22,000 4 Years Old +
Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase Class 3 2m4½f £26,400 4 Years Old +
Kauto Star Novices’ Chase Grade 1 3m £100,000 4 Years Old +
Christmas Hurdle Grade 1 2m £130,000 4 Year Old +
King George VI Chase Grade 1 3m £250,000 4 Years Old +
Handicap Hurdle Class 3 2m5f £21,400 3 Years Old +

Novices’ Hurdle

Class 2, 2m

The Boxing Day races get underway with this novices’ hurdle event that is currently sponsored by Ladbrokes. It is run over two miles and is open to horses aged four and over. A Class 2 event, it asks the competitors to jump eight hurdles. The prize money on offer is more than £13,700, whilst Soft Going will mean that you can expect the event to last for around the four minute mark before the horses head up the final straight.

Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase

Class 3, 2m4½f

There are a good number of races sponsored by Ladbrokes during the course of the weekend, with this one being a steeplechase offering. It is a novices’ Limited handicap, meaning that the handicappers decide the weight that each horse should carry. Run over two miles, four furlongs and one hundred and ten yards, there are sixteen fences to be jumped. The Class 3 race is for horses aged four and over with a rating of between 0 and 140.

Kauto Star Novices’ Chase

Grade 1, 3m

The first of the day’s featured races, the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase is a Grade 1 offering for horses aged four and over. Its prestige is reflected in the fact that there is nearly £57,000 on offer in prize money for the horses that manage to cross the finish line first. It’s run over three miles, with eighteen fences to jump during that distance. If the Going is Soft then expect the leaders to come in after around six minutes or so.

Originally known as the Feltham Novices’ Chase, the race took on its current moniker in 2012 in honour of former five-time King George VI Chase winner Kauto Star. The name gives you the crucial information here, in that it’s a race for novice chasers. Open to horses aged four and over, it found its place in the history books in 2015 when Lizzie Kelly won the event on Tea For Two. In doing so, Kelly became the first female jockey to win a Grade 1 race in the UK with Bryony Frost following suit two years after Kelly.

Christmas Hurdle

Grade 1, 2m

This appropriately named race traditionally takes place on Boxing Day and has technically been being run since 1969. We say ‘technically’ because there was a race called the Kempton Park Handicap Hurdle that was regularly run durning the 1960s. It was abandoned in both 1967 and 1968, however, and when it came back to Kempton in 1969 it boasted the name of the Christmas Hurdle and was no longer a handicap.

This is a decent one to watch if you’re hoping to get an idea about a horse that might go on to win the Champion Hurdle during the Cheltenham Festival, with four horses having done so between 1973 and 2015. Run right-handed, this race is for four-year-olds and over and features a weight of eleven stone and seven pounds. There’s also a seven pound allowance for fillies and mares. In 2018 the prize pot was £130,000, with just over £74,000 going to the winner. It will take around four minutes for horses to come home if the Going is Soft.

King George VI Chase

Grade 1, 3m

Unquestionably the key race of the entire meeting, the King George VI Chase is for horses aged four and over. It is run over three miles and its prestige is notable by the size of the prize money. For the 2019 renewal, for example, the prize money stood at £142,375. Horses will need to navigate eighteen fences during the steeplechase, so experienced ones will stand the best chance of winning.

Handicap Hurdle

Class 3, 2m5f

Coming immediately after the main event of the entire Festival and seeing Day One draw to a close, this handicap hurdle is open to horses aged three and over with a rating of between 0 and 140. With prize money of nearly £13,000 on offer, the race lasts for two miles and five furlongs. There are eight hurdles to be jumped, meaning that if the Going is Soft then it will take the horses around five minutes and twenty seconds to complete the race.


Day Two Races - Desert Orchid Chase Day

RaceGradeLengthPrize MoneyAges
Introductory Juvenile Hurdle Class 2 2m £20,000 3 Years Old
Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase Grade 2 2m £40,000 4 Years Old +
Mares’ Handicap Hurdle Class 2 3m½f £20,000 4 Years Old +
Desert Orchid Chase Grade 2 2m £100,000 4 Years Old +
Handicap Chase Class 2 3m £50,000 4 Years Old +
Handicap Hurdle Class 3 2m £21,400 3 Years Old +

Introductory Juvenile Hurdle

Class 2, 2m

A Class 2 race for horses aged three, this event gives jumpers an introduction to the world of hurdling. Run over two miles, there are eight hurdles involved in the event.It’s sponsored by Ladbrokes at the time of writing and offers around £12,500 in prize money. The race will normally last a little over four minutes if the Going is Soft.

Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase

Grade 2, 2m

The other race that traditionally takes place on the 27th of December is the Wayward Lad Novices' Chase. Named in honour of the horse that won the King George VI Chase three times in the 1980s, it’s for horses aged four and up. Though it was originally raced over about two and a half miles, it was extended by another one hundred and ten yards in 1992. Seven years later and the race wasn’t run at all, returning at the turn of the millennium with its current distance of two miles.

There are twelve fences that must be navigated by the participants during this Grade 2 offering. As the name suggests, it’s a race for novice chasers and over the years it has had numerous different sponsors. First run in 1988, it was known as the Novices’ Chase between 2009 and 2015 because of an association with the classic British bookmaker.

With the prize money sitting at more than £22,000, the Grade 2 race tends to take a little under four minutes to come to its conclusion when the Going is Good to Soft. Despite the nature of the race, it doesn’t always boast the largest field of the day.

Mares’ Handicap Hurdle

Class 2, 3m½f

Another race currently sponsored by Ladbrokes during a weekend in which the British bookmaker has an overall agreement in place, this event is for female horses only. They can be aged four and over and will need to jump twelve hurdles if they hope to win it. Those hurdles are based over the three miles and one hundred and twenty-one yards of the race, which is a Class 2 offering with prize money of about £12,500 on offer.

Desert Orchid Chase

Grade 2, 2m

This race follows in the footsteps of the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase in the sense that it is named after a former horse, this time being Desert Orchid. It’s a Grade 2 event that takes place over two miles, featuring twelve fences during that distance. The steeplechase is open to horses aged four and up and boasts prize money of more than £56,000.

Handicap Chase

Class 2, 3m

Hot on the heels of the Desert Orchid Chase is another steeplechase, this time aimed at horses aged four and over with a rating of between 0 and 145. The prize money stands in excess of £31,000, with the handicappers deciding how much weight each horse should carry. Run over three miles, this handicap chase asks the competitors to jump over eighteen fences if they hope to be victorious when the race is run.

Handicap Hurdle

Class 3, 2m

The two day meeting is drawn to a close with this handicap hurdle event. It’s a Class 3 offering for horses aged three and over, requiring them to have a rating of between 0 and 140 if they wish to take part. Run over two miles, there are eight hurdles in place and the prize money is close to £13,000. When the Going is Soft, you can expect the race to last for about four minutes, give or take, and it joins numerous other race in being sponsored by the bookmaker Ladbrokes.


About the King George VI Chase & Kempton Winter Festival

Racecourses often have specific events associated with them, ones that everyone thinks of when they hear the name of the venue. Mention Cheltenham, for example, and most people will immediately conjure up images of the Festival and the famous roar that gets it underway. Likewise a conversation about Aintree will see almost everyone talk about the Grand National winner they backed one year. For Kempton Park that event is the Winter Festival, the crown jewel for the Surrey venue.

Part of the reason for the popularity of the Winter Festival is because people love to have traditions when it comes to the Christmas period. The same decorations get brought out of storage, the same films get watched and songs listened to. For sports fans, there’s nothing better than being able to escape the family for a few hours and go and watch some football on Boxing Day. Not everyone likes football, however, so Kempton Park provides an alternative sporting event in the form of horse racing, with the King George VI sitting at the top of the pile.

There’s a fair amount to tell you about the Winter Festival aside from the King George VI Chase, but given that it’s the the standout race from the meeting it is the best possible place to start. Ran over around three miles and featuring eighteen fences, it took place for the first time in 1937 and has gone on to be one of the most prestigious chases in jump racing. In fact, only the Gold Cup, which takes place during the aforementioned Cheltenham Festival, is considered to be more important than it.

The Race’s Beginning

On the 20th of January 1936 King George V died, resulting in his son Edward becoming king. Edward was in love with an American named Wallis Simpson, but it wasn’t the done thing for members of the royal family to marry divorced women and so Edward was advised that he could not be king and marry Mrs. Simpson. He promptly abdicated, leaving his brother Albert to become king in his stead. Albert took on the royal title of George VI when he became king on the 11th of December 1936.

If you know anything at all about racing then you’ll know that it’s quite common for races to be named in honour of the royal family, as evidenced by a whole series of races like the Queen Anne Stakes, the Queen Mary Stakes and the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot. Not longer after Albert officially became king there was a race formed in his honour at Kempton Park, taking on the name of the King George VI Chase. That the king himself was a lover of the National Hunt almost certainly had an influence in it being a Kempton race rather than one at a flat raving venue.

Early Runnings

During its more formative years the King George VI Chase struggled to attract runners, with just four horses being entered into it in in its first two outings. It was then hit by the outbreak of the Second World War, owing to the fact that Kempton Park was used as a Prisoner of War camp during this time. The first running of the race at Kempton after the war’s conclusion saw it take place on Boxing Day for the first time; a date that it has been run on ever since. It was not the move to the Christmas period that saw its stock rise with the racing community, however, but rather the winner of that race in 1948.

In April of that year a horse named Cottage Rake earned the plaudits of the racing world when it won the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. That it went on to win the same race the following year and the year after that shows the level that the horse was operating at and it was its victory in the King George VI Chase that saw the race gain respect. It was the following year that saw it rise in popularity, however, when it was broadcast on television for the first time. It has been shown on TV ever since, allowing racing fans that can’t attend the venue to watch the race as part of their Boxing Day celebrations.

Notable Moments

Given that the race has been taking place since 1937, it’s entirely reasonable to suspect that it has enjoyed some thrilling moment over the years. Perhaps one the best example of this comes in the form of Wayward Lad’s three wins in 1982, 1982 and 1985, becoming the first horse to win it more than twice. Just as countless athletes managed to run a sub-four minute mile once Roger Bannister had done it in 1954, the fact that Wayward Lad notched up three wins opened the floodgates in the years that followed.

When Desert Orchid won the race four times between 1986 and 1990 many horse racing fans thought it was a feat that would never be bettered. That the David Elsworth trained horse did it with two different jockeys and in three consecutive years after a year off made it all the more impressive. You can imagine, therefore, just how proud of Kauto Star Paul Nicholls and jockey Ruby Walsh were when they watched him romp home on five successive occasions, combining the 2007 and 2009 wins with victories in the Cheltenham Cup.

As you would imagine for a race, and indeed an event, that takes place in the Winter, the King George VI Chase has fallen foul to the weather on several occasions. Frost was the reason for no race being run in 1961, 1962 and 1968, with snow the reason given for its cancellation in 1970 and 1981. In 1995 the race was moved to the 6th of January the following year and run at Sandown because of snow and frost, with the same thing happening in 2010/2011. The event was also cancelled in 1967 because of an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease.

Details & Records

The King George VI Chase is run right-handed around the Kempton course and is open to horses aged four and over. There are some weight restrictions, which are as follows:

  • Four-year-olds: 11 stone, 3 pounds
  • Five-year-olds and over: 11 stone, 10 pounds
  • Mares & fillies get a 7 pounds allowance

The purse for the race in 2018 was £250,000, with £142,375 of that going to the winner. In terms of the most successful jockey and trainer, it’s not a shock to see Ruby Walsh in there courtesy of his five wins on Kauto Star, nor is it surprising to see Paul Nicholls top the list thanks to the five wins he managed from 1997 to 2018 with See More Business, Silviniaco Conti and Clan Des Obeaux, in addition to his Kauto Star wins.

Sam Waley-Cohen is the only amateur jockey to have won the race to date, doing so on Long Run in 2010 and 2011. Interestingly, Southern Hero, the winner of the race in its inaugural running in 1937, remains the oldest horse to be victorious as a twelve-year-old.