It is the undoubted highlight of the festive National Hunt calendar.
And now the Christmas Festival at Kempton Park has been given a boost with the announcement that Ladbrokes will take over principal sponsorship of the meeting from 2019 onwards.
The bookmaker will lend their name and money to the two-day festival, which kicks off on Boxing Day (which this year is a Thursday) with the King George VI Chase and continues into the Friday with the Desert Orchid Chase, among other races on what is always a high-quality card.
Ladbrokes have penned a five-year deal to provide sponsorship of the festival, taking over from 32Red who themselves had taken on the honours from William Hill in 2016.
In addition to the King George and the Desert Orchid Chase, the betting firm will have their branding attached to the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle as well.
Ladbrokes Coral’s director of PR, Simon Clare, said:
“Ladbrokes has a long and proud history of sponsoring top-class horseracing and we are absolutely thrilled to be embarking on this exciting new sponsorship of the King George VI Chase and the two-day Christmas festival at Kempton.
“There are few races in the calendar that can boast the heritage and prestige of the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase and it is always one of the top ten betting races in the year, making it a perfect fit for Ladbrokes.”
Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day
With 12 outstanding race across the two days, it’s little wonder that the Christmas Festival is widely regarded as the standout meeting in the mid-season of the National Hunt campaign.
When you look at the history and the prestige of the race, clearly the King George VI Chase stands out as a premier three-miler – arguably only the Cheltenham Gold Cup can outdo it for prestige.
The rollcall of former winners includes Desert Orchid, who took the spoils on four different occasions, Kauto Star, who bettered the legendary grey with five wins, and the tough-as-teak Long Run.
Paul Nicholls has enjoyed unprecedented success in the King George, enjoying ten wins in the showpiece, with eight of those victories coming in the past thirteen years. His reigning champion, the majestic Clan Des Obeaux, could take some stopping in 2019 as well, but the likes of Altior, Kemboy and Cyrname will give it a good go.
The Christmas Hurdle is a fantastic race in its own right plus an excellent marker for the Cheltenham Festival – there have been multiple Christmas winners that have gone on to taste Champion Hurdle glory at the meeting.
To mark your card, this is a renewal that the Irish tend to thrive in, with Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins sharing eight of the last nine winners. Previous champions such as My Tent or Yours, Faugheen and Buveur D’Air reveal the quality of any prospective victor in the Christmas Hurdle.
And finally we have the Desert Orchid Chase, a two-miler named in honour of the King George specialist. It’s Grade 2 status means it’s not as fiercely contested as some of the Christmas Festival’s other blue riband races, but there’s a real sense of emotion and levity to this renewal: on he day of the inaugural running, Dessie’s ashes were spread on the Kempton Park track.
And besides, there aren’t many Grade 2 affairs that list Sire de Grugy, Special Tiara, Sprinter Sacre and Altior amongst their former winners!