Winter Festival Horse Racing By Jon Ivan-Duke

A Christmas Cracker For Racing Fans

The William Hill King George VI Chase is the pinnacle of Winter Jump Racing and this year nine horses will compete for Kempton’s ultimate prize.

Ireland hold the top two in the sponsor’s betting market, with Don Cossack (9-4 favourite) and Vautour (11-4), while Cue Card (10-3) is the shortest of the British contenders.

Willie Mullins is confident of a big run from Vautour and isn’t concerned about the trip.

“I’m looking forward to it. I suppose everyone’s concern was how he jumped to his left the last time (at Ascot), but I think he was in front and idling, I think he’ll be fine on the day. I don’t’ think the trip is a concern. To run around Cheltenham the way he did, still galloping, pricking his ears going up the hill over 2m5f on that track, you would think that three miles around Kempton should be easily within his grasp.” 

Colin Tizzard trains Cue Card and is equally bullish over his chances.

“We’d love to have the privilege of winning a King George, he deserves something like that, he’s been a brilliant horse for five years now. I think he’s a healthier horse this year because we’ve got the new stables. Since he’s come in he’s been healthier, the trapped epligottis operation was done in February last year and he just couldn’t breathe. He’s proven it in his races this year and he’s been fantastic.”

Paul Nicholls sends William Hill King George champion for the last two years, Silviniaco Conti in to action again, after a slightly disappointing effort in the Betfair Chase:

“He was a little sore after Haydock for a few days, he’s had some problems with sarcoids just in the wrong place between his front legs, but he’s in a good place at the moment and we need to find some improvement from him from Haydock to Kempton. I think this year is probably a tougher race than last year, the likes of Vautour and Cue Card, so he’ll have to be at career best without a shadow of a doubt.” 

However, 20-time Champion Jockey AP McCoy thinks the favourite will take all the beating: 

“As long as the ground doesn’t get too heavy, I would be very keen on Don Cossack. He’s a much better horse on better ground and I think the less rain we have the better for him, but I think Don Cossack will win the William Hill King George.”

It’s not just the William Hill King George to look forward to on Boxing Day, with Champion Hurdler Faugheen returning to Kempton after winning the Christmas Hurdle last year. He goes for the race again and is a heavy odds-on favourite with the sponsor, despite losing to stablemate Nichols Canyon last time. It surprised trainer Willie Mullins who expects Faugheen to be back to form at Kempton.

“It probably was a surprise given the work they had done before the Morgiana at Punchestown. I’m happy that Faugheen is coming back to himself and I’m happy that he likes the track over there. Whether it was tactics on the day, he’d done a very big bit of work the Tuesday beforehand, so maybe he was still feeling the effects of that.”

Nicky Henderson’s star chaser Sprinter Sacre is back in action too. Two years ago, Sprinter Sacre pulled-up in the Desert Orchid Chase, but he is back to make amends. Charlie Morlock is Assistant Trainer to Nicky Henderson and he is delighted with Sprinter Sacre’s form ahead of the race.

“We’ve had no problems with him. The Schloer was the first real race for quite some considerable time that we’ve been totally happy with him and obviously he came out of it in sparkling form. This has always been the plan. All last year we were happy with him, but there was always something slightly niggling in the background, maybe he isn’t quite what he was. But this year he looks how he used to look, it’s one of those intangible things, but you can just look at him and he looks bigger, stronger and all the muscle is in the right places.”




9-4 Don Cossack – trained by Gordon Elliott and owned by Gigginstown, he has won five Grade 1s, including his latest outing at Down Royal when landing the Champion Chase. He is proven over three miles and a worthy favourite

11-4 Vautour – trained by Willie Mullins and owned by the Ricci’s, Vautour was one of the most impressive winners of any Cheltenham Festival race in March when romping home in the JLT Novices’ Chase. Never raced over three miles.

10-3 Cue Card – trained by Colin Tizzard and owned by Mrs Jean Bishop. He was a stylish winner of the Betfair Chase at Haydock and looks to be in the form of his life following an epiglottis operation. Leading British contender.

8-1 Silviniaco Conti – trained by Paul Nicholls and owned by Potensis Bloodstock/Chris Giles. Reigning William Hill King George champion for the last two years, but will need to overcome issues with sarcoids and a below par effort at Haydock recently

8-1 Smad Place – trained by Alan King and owned by Mrs Peter Andrews. Rarely has there been a more impressive winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup and he deserves his place in Grade 1 company, in a race with a rich history of grey winners.

16-1 Al Ferof – formerly trained by Paul Nicholls but now with Dan Skelton, owned by John Hales. A former Cheltenham Festival winner and third in this race for the last two years. Yard are going well this season and each-way claims again.

25-1 Valseur Lido – trained by Willie Mullins and owned by Gigginstown. He was a well held second behind Djakadam in the John Durkan Memorial most recently, but he is only six and is a potential improver, particularly over three miles.

33-1 Irish Cavalier – trained by Rebecca Curtis and owned by Andrew McIver. Provided his owner with a first Cheltenham Festival success in March and caught the eye back at that track in November, but this is a bold step-up in class.

66-1 Ballynagour – trained by David Pipe and owned by Allan Stennett. He has been well beaten by Cue Card at both Wetherby and Haydock this season, he could struggle against more proven Grade 1 horses.




William Hill King George VI Chase: 9-4 Don Cossack, 11-4 Vautour, 10-3 Cue Card, 8-1 Silviniaco Conti, Smad Place, 16-1 Al Ferof, 25-1 Valseur Lido, 33-1 Irish Cavalier, 66-1 Ballynagour (EW ¼ Odds Places 1,2,3) Christmas Hurdle: 2-5 Faugheen, 13-2 Old Guard, The New One,16-1 Hargam, 25-1 Sign Of A Victory (EW ¼ Odds Places 1,2) Desert Orchid Chase: 4-7 Sprinter Sacre, 11-4 Sire De Grugy, 7-1Vibrato Valtat, 12-1 Somersby, 25-1 Sir Valentino, (EW ¼ Odds Places 1,2)


Kauto Star Novices’ Chase: 13-8 Native River, 2-1 Tea For Two, 7-1 Bally Beaufort, Southfield Royale, 12-1 As De Mee, 16-1 L’Unique, Net D’Ecosse, (EW ¼ Odds Places 1,2)


William Hill King George VI Chase Special - Where Will The Winner Be Trained: 4-6 Ireland, 11-10 UK


William Hill King George VI Chase Special – The Winner To Go On And Win The 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup: 11-4


To Win The 2015 William Hill King George VI Chase & 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup: 8-1 Don Cossack, 10-1 Vautour, 16-1 Cue Card, 66-1 Smad Place




More about the Winter Festival in our feature section