The English love of horses and horseracing is prominently expressed during the holidays at the annual King George VI Chase. A Grade One National Hunt Chase, it is second only to the Cheltenham Gold Cup in terms of prestige, at least in terms of English horse chases. Since its inception in 1937, it has also become one of the most enduring Christmas sports traditions in Europe.
Horse-related events have been popular in England since the Middle Ages, from simple races to obstacle courses to fox hunts. Incidentally, mock fox-hunts have also become a very popular Boxing Day tradition. One of the most popular types of racing is known as a hunt chase, essentially a course with large hedge-like obstacles requiring incredible agility and jumping ability on the part of both horse and rider.
The King George VI Chase was inaugurated in February 1937, barely two months after Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry and American divorcee. It was named in honor of his brother and successor, George VI of The King’s Speech fame, and was probably designed to aid the prestige of trhe monarchy during that troubled period. After World War II, the race was moved to Boxing Day, and it has been a fixture of Christmas ever since.
The King George VI Chase takes place at Kempton Park, a three mile race track about 15 miles west of London. There are races year-round, mostly taking place on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Web: www.kinggeorgechase.co.uk (official website).