Racing: Kempton awaits a new great white hope

King George VI Chase: The grey heir Teeton Mill follows in the hoofprints of Desert Orchid and One Man
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The Independent Online
THE RACE that is second only in the calendar to the Cheltenham Gold Cup as a level-weights test for the best staying chasers owes its existence to a constitutional crisis. After the abdication of Edward VIII in December 1936, the executive of the Sunbury course - in a previous era the haunt of the swanky Marlborough House set led by the Prince of Wales - was determined to honour the unexpected new monarch.

A frantic scan of the fixture scheduled for February 1937 revealed there was only one suitable slot and so the three-mile Manor Optional Selling Chase was turned into the King George VI Steeplechase. The first winner was Southern Hero, who beat the following month's National winner, Royal Mail.

That inaugural running was worth pounds 392 to the winner; the first prize for Saturday's 48th renewal will be in the region of pounds 70,000. The race was moved to its present date after the Second World War - the course was used to house prisoners during the hostilities - and the first winning rider in peacetime was Bryan Marshall, who had survived a bullet in the neck during the Normandy landings.

The Boxing Day crowds who flock for an afternoon out after the torpor of the previous day have seen many a champion and no little drama over the years. The seal on the race's prestige was set in 1948 when Cottage Rake won en route to the second of his three Gold Cup triumphs. Halloween became the first dual winner, succeeding in 1952 and 1954. The horse he beat on the second occasion, the headstrong Galloway Braes, had triumphed the previous year and would have done so again in 1955 had Fred Winter not dropped his hands on the run-in, having looked over the wrong shoulder and failed to spot Limber Hill. Error was followed by tragedy; the fences which Galloway Braes treated with such hair-raising lack of respect got him in the end; he fell fatally in the 1956 race.

The two giants of the Sixties, Mill House and Arkle, each had their name on the roll of honour. There was sensation in 1966 as Arkle, at 7-1 on, was beaten but it transpired that the triple Gold Cup winner had broken a foot against the guard rail at the final open ditch. Such was his heart that he failed by only a length to give 21lb to Dormant, but the race marked the end of his career.

The highlight of the Seventies must be Captain Christy's victory in 1975. The previous year he had beaten the dual winner Pendil by eight lengths, but his second win, in then record time by 30 lengths from Bula, was a solo tour de force unmatched in the race's history.

Wayward Lad became the first triple winner when he bettered Combs Ditch by a neck after a stirring battle. But in recent decades racegoers have somehow become used to a white Christmas. Desert Orchid notched an unprecedented four-timer in 1990 and it is impossible to calculate the pleasure that the silver darling gave during the time he jumped the fence that divides racing's aficionados from the wider public. His snowy statue now greets the Boxing Day throng as they arrive through the gates.

And the baton he passed to the much-lamented One Man is due to be picked up on Saturday by another dashing white charger, Teeton Mill. The former hunter-chaser looked potentially top class when he ran away with the Hennessy Gold Cup off a light weight last month.

Twelve horses were declared at yesterday's five-day stage when Cyfor Malta was a surprise absentee. With his stablemate Cyborgo a failure at Ascot yesterday, Martin Pipe will rely on last year's runner-up, Challenger Du Luc. Of the leading protagonists - most of whom have the alternative of the Ericsson Chase at Leopardstown two days later - See More Business and the Irish raider Imperial Call are suited by soft and Simply Dashing prefers it faster.

Imperial Call is attempting a comeback of Lazarus proportions. The nine- year-old seemed to have the chasing world at his feet when he beat Rough Quest in the Gold Cup two years ago before succumbing to a series of physical problems. But his career has blossomed again in the hands of his new young trainer, Raymond Hurley, and jumped particularly well when he beat Dorans Pride at Punchestown two weeks ago.

Last year's winner, See More Business, a workmanlike bay, has not yet captured the public imagination. But if he gets his ground he can give his young rider, Joe Tizzard, the perfect Christmas present. Simply Dashing, who has run two cracking races in defeat this term, is the alternative.

King George declarations: Challenger Du Luc (M Pipe); Coome Hill (W Dennis); Cyborgo (M Pipe); Escartefigue (D Nicholson); Go Ballistic (D Nicholson); Imperial Call (R Hurley); Mulligan (D Nicholson); See More Business (P Nicholls); Simply Dashing (T Easterby); Super Tactics (R Alner); Teeton Mill (Miss V Williams); The Grey Monk (N Richards).

Betting (William Hill): 2-1 See More Business, 7-2 Teeton Mill, 4-1 Imperial Call, 5-1 Simply Dashing, 8-1 Escartefigue, 12-1 Challenger Du Luc, 20- 1 others