The Grade 1 King George VI Chase is always the highlight of the festive sporting calendar for any fan of jumps racing. It takes place at Kempton on Boxing Day each year and it always provides viewers with a thrilling spectacle. It is one of the most prestigious races of the season and it carries a handsome prize purse, so it always features a strong field packed full of famous names. We have compiled this handy guide to help punters become better acquainted with the glorious heritage of this important race:
King George VI Chase History
King George V died in January 1936 and his son ascended the throne as King Edward VIII. However, he sparked a huge amount of controversy by declaring his ambition to marry his mistress, an American socialite called Wallis Simpson. She had just filed for divorce from her second husband, and the British government believed that a twice divorced woman was politically, socially, and morally unsuitable as a prospective consort. On December 11, 1936, Edward decided to abdicate the throne in order to marry her.
That sparked a crisis for the Royal Family. Edward’s younger brother, Albert, was the next in line to the throne, and he adopted the regnal name King George VI in order to emphasise continuity with his father and restore confidence in the monarchy. His coronation took place in May 1937, and that year the King George VI Chase was inaugurated in honour of the new monarch, who ended up on the throne until 1952, when he died and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II, ascended.
Only four runners started in the inaugural race in 1937, but it was an extremely competitive field, featuring legendary five-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Golden Miller. On the day he was no match for a 12-year-old called Southern Hero, who seized the first prize of 500 sovereigns.
The King George VI Chase was cancelled due to World War 2 and there were no renewals between 1939 and 1946. It moved to Boxing Day when it returned in 1947 and it has held that special place in the seasonal calendar ever since. King George VI had died by that point, but his daughter has always maintained strong links to horse racing and she even won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 2013.
The 1947 renewal resulted in a fine victory for Rowland Roy, the first of five winners to hail from the Fulke Walwyn stable. The next year, Cottage Rake romped to victory. He would go on to become only the second horse to win the Gold Cup three years in a row, after Golden Miller, achieving the hat-trick between 1948 and 1950. Cottage Rake’s trainer, Vincent O’Brien, also won The Derby at Epsom on six occasions, while saddling the winner of three Grand Nationals and three Champions Hurdles.
The King George VI Chase was televised for the first time in 1949 and viewers were served up a festive treat. Finnure, Brabazon and defending champion Cottage Rake were involved in a pulsating three-way battle on the home straight and Finnure – ridden by the legendary Dick Francis – edged ahead to clinch a narrow victory. Perhaps the greatest triumph came in 1950. The Queen Mother, King George VI’s widow, was able to celebrate as her horses, Manicou, defied the odds to win the race.
The King George VI Chase was cancelled due to bad weather in 1961, 1962, 1967 and 1970, which damaged its reputation somewhat. However, it was then only cancelled once more, in 1981, and it has run every year since then. The 2010 running was rescheduled to January 15, 2011, due to bad weather. The 1960s were notable for the legendary Arkle winning the race in 1965 with a devastating performance, before cracking a pedal bone while clearing the open ditch the following year. He still managed to finish second, but he never recovered and that proved to be his last outing.
The Modern Era
The Dickinson family began a period of dominance of this race in 1978, when Gay Spartan won it for Tony Dickinson. He secured another victory with Silver Buck in 1979, before handing the stable over to his son, Michael. The younger Dickinson saddled Silver Buck to another victory in 1980, before the race was cancelled in 1981 due to snow and frost. Michael Dickinson was triumphant once again in 1982, as Wayward Lad seized the win, and Wayward Lad then successfully defended his crown in 1983. That year was also notable when the first five horses to finish the Cheltenham Gold Cup were all trained by Michael Dickinson.
Jenny Pitman’s Borough Hill lad won the race in 1984, bringing an end to a six-year period of dominance from the Dickinsons. However, Monica Dickinson – Tony’s wife and Michael’s mother – then trained Wayward Lad to another win in 1985, sealing the dynasty. It was then time for the iconic Desert Orchid to take over. He won the race in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990, while he also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989 to cement his status as a superstar.
There were plenty of big name winners in the ensuing years, including The Fellow, Algan, One Man and Florida Pearl, but the most memorable victory was that of Best Mate. It handed Sir Tony McCoy the only King George win of his career and his first in seven attempts.
King George VI Chase Records
Kauto Star owned this race between 2006 and 2011. He first announced himself as a force to be reckoned with by securing a 17-length win in the 2006 Betfair Chase and he then breezed to victory in the King George VI Chase before winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup and seizing the Stayers Chase Triple Crown bonus of £1 million. He won the King George for the next three seasons, and lost out to the highly rated Long Run in 2010. However, Kauto Star was back with a vengeance in 2011 as he won the race for a record fifth time, leaving him ahead of Desert Orchid as the most successful horse in the race’s history.
Kauto Star’s win in 2009 was the most emphatic in the history if the race, as he finished 36 lengths clear of Madison Du Berlais. Yet he was not the shortest priced runner, as that honour went to Arkle at 1/7 in 1965. Sam Waley-Cohen became the first amateur jockey to win the race when he rode Long Run in 2010.
Paul Nicholls is easily the most successful trainer in King George VI Chase history. He saddled See More Business to victory in 1997 and 1999 and then won it five times with Kauto Star. He took his tally to nine with Silviniaco Conti in 2013 and 2014 and then won it for a 10th time with Clan Des Obeaux in 2018. Francois Doumen is the only other trainer to win the race with four different horses.
Ruby Walsh is also the most successful jockey in the race’s history thanks to his partnership with Kauto Star, ensuring he has won it five times. He owes a great deal of credit to the skill of trainer Nicholls. Punters always keep a close eye on the Ditcheat maestro’s runners in the King George, and they are often among the favourites. Check out this this horse racing betting guide for more information on betting on the big race.
Southern Hero remains the oldest winner of the race, as he was 12 when he took first place in 1937. His winning time is also the slowest, while One Man recorded the fastest ever time on firm ground in 1996. The youngest winner was the Queen Mother’s horse, Manicou, in 1950. The smallest field to contest this race came in 1964, when Frenchman’s Cove beat just one opponent. The largest field was 1978, when Gay Spartan won for Tony Dickinson. No mare has ever won the race.