The King George the 1V Chase on St Stephens day is one of the the jewel’s in the crown of Steeplechasing. Second only on the jump racing calendar to Cheltenham in importance, the Irish have had a long and successful relationship with the famous race. The famous event was first run in February 1937, and it was named in honour of the new British monarch, King George VI.
The race was only run twice before World War II, during which Kempton Park was closed for racing and converted into a a prisoner-of- war camp! The two prewar runnings contained only four runners. The winner of the first, Southern Hero, remains the race's oldest ever winner aged twelve. After the war the racecourse reopened, and the event returned in 1947 on a new dateBoxing Day, which has now become an integral date in the racing calendar.
Captain Christy was one of the best Irish chasers of his era. He gave the performance of a life time when dispatching Bula in the 1975 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park . The Pat Taffe trained Gelding was a spectacular jumper who went for broke at all his fences. Kempton provides a stiff jumping test with the emphasis more on speed than stamina. Bula was a dual champion hurdle winner with bags of speed, but Captain Christy left him trailing in his wake, and romped home by a whopping thirty lenghts. Gerry Newman rode him in that race, but for most of his other successes his jockey was Bobby Beasley.
It has not been all triumph for the Irish, there have been a few tears also. Arkle took the honours in 1965 when beating old rival Dormant. He would return a year later in good shape after a victor at Ascot. Hopes were high of a second successive crown, but tragedy would strike in a race of high drama. Just 13 days after his Ascot victory, Arkle’s career was over. He sustained a fracture to his off-fore pedal bone in the closing stages of the race,and finished the race very lame, a length behind old opponent Dormant. Hopes were high that after a period of recuperation Arkle might make a comeback, but Kempton proved to be the end of the road for the equine legend. He was humanely put down on May 31, 1970, as a result of extreme stiffness and lesions on both hind feet, which had developed independently of his career-ending injury.
Another Irish great to grace Kempton was former point to point horse Silver Buck. He was at the centre of a thrilling renewal in 1979 event was a thriller with Anaglogs Daughter and Tommy Carberry exploding from the tapes. Tied Cottage normally cut out the running in his races, but was left floundering as Carberry’s and his mount went hell for leather on the first circuit. Despite the punishing pace Silver Buck and old adversary Night Nurse stalked Anaglogs Daughter, and as the tank began to empty, the duo took over. Night Nurse looked to have the trophy in safe keeping as Silver Buck stride began to shorten. The Irish horse looked a sitting duck as loomed large in the rear mirror. Silver Buck jumped bravely digging deep to roll the dice one last time. Nigh Nurse clouted the fence sending startled jockey Alan Brown spinning to the Kempton turf. Left in the clear Silver Buck dragged himself forward as Analogs Daughter rallied again on the inside. For a moment it looked as if Silver Buck had nothing left to give, but the front running heroics of Carberry’s mount had taken a punishing toll. Silver Buck and Tommy Carmody were not for catching and landed the spoils after a roller-coaster race.
Silver Buck would return in 1980 and triumph again. He was denied a hat-trick in 1981 as mother nature (in the form of a sharp frost) ruled supreme. Kicking King was another Irish winner who was trained in Straffan, Co. Kildare, Ireland, by Tom Taaffe. While he was best known for his victory in the 2005 Cheltenham Gold Cup, he also won the King George in 2004 and 2005; once at Kempton and once at Sandown Park, when the race was relocated owing to the construction of an all weather track at Kempton. His Boxing Day win on Sunday 26 December was a first; when See More Business won the race in 1999, Christmas Sunday was still observed so that year the race was the very first time it was scheduled for the Monday. Thus granting Kicking King a unique place in the races history. He was the first horse to win twice on non-weekdays. History, hero’s and heartbreak.
The Irish at Kempton, one of racings greatest stories..