It has been 15 years since three-time Gold Cup hero Best Mate won the King George.
In that time Edredon Bleu (2003), Kicking King (2004, 05), Kauto Star (2006, 07, 08, 09, 11), Long Run (2010, 12), Silviniaco Conti (2013, 14), Cue Card (2015) and last year’s hero Thistlecrack, the first novice to ever win the great race, have added their name to the trophy.
With so many repeat winners it is safe to assume it takes a certain type of horse to win the King George - but what exactly is that type?
Well the broad brushstrokes are easy to apply. If we remove the 2005 result (Kicking King’s second win) as that edition was run down the road at Sandown due to redevelopment work at Kempton and thus was a very different test, then the average winning age in the remaining 14 years is 7.86 with 12 of the 14 winners aged between six and nine.
What’s more, if you include horses that did not win but ran well enough to finish within five lengths of the winner - an additional 13 horses - then 20 of the 27 were in this age bracket. It is a race in which older horses struggle.
There have also been nine winning favourites in those 14 editions, four of which have been odds-on, with 25/1 shot Edredon Bleu the only winner that has returned an starting price (SP) bigger than 9/2. Of those additional 13 to even get close to the winner just four were bigger than 15-2.
Luckily each-way markets pay out for the first three regardless of how close they finished - provided there is at least eight runners (last year there was just five) - but for those hoping to sneak a place with a bit of Christmas money on a big-priced runner beware, just 10 of the 41 horses to finish in the places in the last 14 editions have returned a double-figure SP meaning a whopping 31 of the 41 were sent off 9-1 or shorter.
But horseracing is, sadly, vastly more complex than sticking a line through all the horses not aged between six and nine that go off at an SP bigger than 9-2 and then printing money.
So let’s look at those 14 winners and the and the seven horses who have finished within two and a half lengths of glory - which actually makes for 14 horses due to all the repeat winners - and see if they share any characteristics as racehorses in terms profile.
The first place to start is obviously with Kauto Star, the five-time winner of the race. He is the archetype of a King George horse. Before his first King George he had won three Grade 1s - two Tingle Creeks at Sandown over two miles and a Betfair Chase over a furlong shy of Kempton’s three miles.
So he was proven in open Grade 1 company over fences at close enough the trip, but perhaps more interestingly with regards to the King George, he was proven at that level over shorter too.
That is because as a pan-flat triangular-shaped track with sharp bends and long straights with fences that come in quick-fire clusters the ability to jump and travel at speed is tested more in a King George than any other staying chase and consequently that is a characteristic that shines through more so than proven stamina.
If we look at the other 13 horses this is something that begins to shine through. By the time Best Mate won a King George he was already a Gold Cup winner over a further two and a half furlongs on a far more undulating and testing track but he had also won a Grade 1 novice chase over 2m4f and warmed up for the King George with an eight-length romp in the Grade 2 Peterborough Chase over the same distance.
Edredon Bleu, who raced in the same silks as Best Mate, raced almost exclusively over shorter. His King George win was, like Kauto Star’s just his second start at the trip. He was a two-time Grade 1 winner over fences in open company at two miles, including a Champion Chase. He just got the better of Tiutchev, who was having his first start over more than 2m5f, by a length and a quarter.
Kicking King was another with multiple Grade 1 wins over shorter having just his second start over three miles while Long Run was having just his third start at the trip but had won multiple Grade 1s over shorter and the horse who got within a neck of him when he reclaimed the crown, Captain Chris, is another. That was his third try at the trip - his first came when third in the race the year before. He never won over three but was a multiple Grade 1 winner over shorter.
Cue Card, and the horse he beat by a head, Vautour, both also fit this profile perfectly while Silviniaco Conti won Grade 2s over shorter prior to the King George but came into his first King George with four wins at the trip - including a Grade 1. He did not win his Grade 1 over 2m5f until after his King Georges. Thistlecrack is another who was proven at the trip at Grade 1 level but not over shorter and, in his case, not over fences either.
So of those 14 horses, nine fit the speedier profile with crucially Thistlecrack and Silvinaco Conti the only winners in the last 14 years not to technically fall into that category and as Silviniaco Conti proved afterwards, he had the speed to win a Grade 1 over 2m5f and you would struggle to find anyone who will argue a peak Thistlecrack would not have been capable of it either.
Adding in that factor and this year’s race takes on a new complexion with the short-priced favourite Might Bite a Grade 1 winner but exclusively at three miles plus.
Bristol De Mai and Fox Norton, the next two in the betting however, have both won at the highest level over shorter with the former also proven at this trip and the latter yet to run within half a mile of this distance.