Kempton wishes on a Star

Track deploys frost covers to safeguard King George as spectre of white Xmas looms

If ever there was an inappropriate setting for the promotion of a midwinter racing festival, an ice bar was probably it. A week tomorrow Kempton will host the King George VI Chase, the William Hill-sponsored £200,000 highlight of the festive season, and the one thing Barney Clifford, clerk of the course at the Sunbury track, does not want is to be frozen solid.

Guests at yesterday's launch in central London were welcomed by huskies, drank from glasses made of solidified water and huddled in fur-edged thermal suits. Clifford shivered, not wholly because of the cold. "The only white Christmas I want," he said, "is the sort that Desert Orchid brought."

In advance of the unpromising forecast, Clifford yesterday authorised the application of frost covers on the course at Kempton. "I try to de-risk as much as possible in the build-up," he said. It takes nearly 500 people, full-timers and casual labour, to put on the Kempton show, which should attract a crowd of 20,000. "Abandonment is our worst nightmare," Clifford added, "and what the weathermen say is coming over the weekend and next week is not good news. But it's supposed to be getting warmer from Christmas Day on."

This will be the 10th year that Clifford has been in charge of the two-day festival, which this year features Kauto Star's attempt at winning an unprecedented fourth King George in a row. Clifford's day will start on the track at 5.30, checking the raceability of the precious turf. On an area the size of a racecourse, undersoil heating is not an option and safety of man and beast is paramount. "Even in the dark," he said, "I can get a feel for it."

Should Kauto Star prevail – he is 8-13 favourite with the sponsors to do what even Desert Orchid could not – it will be one of the sport's seminal moments. Clifford's favourite times during his tenure, though, have more to do with his former job, as a jockey.

He recalls two years with especial affection for unashamedly personal reasons. "The year Florida Pearl won," he said, "was the year after he'd made a horrible mistake down the back. That time, I'd offered them the chance to school over those fences when he arrived from Ireland a couple of days before and they didn't. The second year, they did, and though I didn't ride him over the fences, I did ride him on the track, which was very special."

But it was a hurdler, not a chaser, who sticks in Clifford's mind most, the recently retired Harchibald. The talented but enigmatic Noel Meade-trained gelding won the Christmas Hurdle, the highlight of the meeting's second day, twice. "The first time," said Clifford, "I gave him a blowout round the track on Christmas Day, and he didn't do a tap. I took him out again on Boxing Day morning and in the straight I set my hands and let him more or less run away with me, just to get him to work.

"In the race, when he came to the same place, he did more or less the same and Noel asked me what the hell I'd done to make him do that. Whatever people called him, he was an extraordinary horse. I'd ridden some good ones, but never one who could go from 20mph to 40 in a matter of strides."

Kauto Star's trainer, Paul Nicholls, yesterday reported his stable star's own turbo boost in full working order. "He came up the gallop with Big Buck's yesterday," he said, "and he has come on a ton since Haydock."

Turf account: Sue Montgomery


Katy's Secret (6.50 Wolverhampton) Speedily bred filly who went down narrowly to an odds-on shot on her debut on this track and can only improve for her introduction to her job.

Next best

Topcroft (3.15 Southwell) Has made rapid progress for change of stables and application of a visor, and still may be ahead of the handicapper in his search for a four-timer.

One to watch

Look out for Sunwise (P F Nicholls), a dual Flat winner for John Oxx and now reportedly shaping better in his new job than this week's Newbury winner Advisor.

Where the money's going

Stravinsky Dance is 9-1 to 7-1 with William Hill for Saturday's Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot.

Chris McGrath's Nap

Be A Devil (9.20 Wolverhampton).

i100 In this video, the late actor Leonard Nimoy explains how he decided to use the gesture for his character
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Robert De Niro has walked off the set of Edge of Darkness
news The Godfather Part II actor has an estimated wealth of over $200m
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Robbie Savage will not face a driving ban
football'Mr Marmite' faced the possibility of a 28-day ban
Life and Style
Nearly half of all young people in middle and high income countries were putting themselves at risk of tinnitus and, in extreme cases, irreversible hearing loss
It was only when he left his post Tony Blair's director of communications that Alastair Campbell has published books
people The most notorious spin doctor in UK politics has reinvented himself
Life and Style
The new model would be a “pedal assist” bike in which the rider’s strength is augmented by the engine on hills and when they want to go fast
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in ‘I Am Michael’
filmJustin Kelly's latest film tells the story of a man who 'healed' his homosexuality and turned to God
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Recruitment Genius: Product Quality Assurance Technologist - Hardline & Electric

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role in this successful eco...

Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower