Kempton’s two-day Christmas Festival is the highlight of the Festive Period for fans of the National Hunt game – taking place on the 26th and 27th of December to deliver a couple of late presents to the party. The King George VI Chase hogs the headlines on Boxing Day, but the historic staying chase isn’t the only Grade 1 show in town. Lighting up the turf on Day Two of the meeting is one of the classiest hurdles of the season, as the superstars over the smaller obstacles lock horns in the Christmas Hurdle.
Speed and jumping accuracy are the keys to success in this two-mile affair, with eight flights standing between the field and the lion’s share of the £130,000 (2022) in prize money. Many of the greats of the game have stamped their class in this race since the inaugural edition of 1969, including Lanzarote, Dawn Run, Kribensis, and Faugheen, with the latest two-mile titan Constitution Hill adding his name to the roll of honour in 2022.
Always a thrilling spectacle, the race is also one of the major betting heats on a cracking card at the Sunbury-on-Thames track. Here, we look back at the 23 editions of the race between 2000 and 2022 in an effort to outline the credentials often required to succeed.
Christmas Hurdle: Age Trends – 2000 to 2022
Younger, quicker legs boast a dominant record in this event, with the six-year-old contenders faring best. 22 of 23 (95.60%) winners were between five and seven, with the only outlier being the enigmatic Harchibald, who returned to win the race for a second time as a nine-year-old in 2008. Of the five seven-year-olds to come home in front, three were adding to a previous win in the race: Binocular (2007), Faugheen (2015), and Epatante (2021).
Christmas Hurdle: Trainer Stats – 2000 to 2022
If there is one division with which multiple Champion Trainer, Nicky Henderson, is most associated, it is that of the two-mile hurdlers. The relentless stream of star talent to have passed through his Lamboun operation over the years has been little short of staggering, and nowhere has that consistent class been illustrated more clearly than in this event. With 11 wins since 2000, Henderson boasts the best record in the Christmas Hurdle – and it isn’t close. Binocular, Buveur d’Air, My Tent Or Yours and Constitution Hill are amongst those to have carried Henderson to the winner’s enclosure, and few would bet against him bolstering those numbers further in the coming years.
Irish legend, Noel Meade, comes next on four wins, with compatriot Willie Mullins and Cheltenham-based, Jonjo O’Neill, the only other handlers to have registered more than a solitary success over this period.
Christmas Hurdle: Jockey Stats – 2000 to 2022
The jockey table isn’t quite so one-sided, but it is no surprise that three of the top four names on the list did the bulk of their winning aboard a Nicky Henderson-trained hurdling star. Tony McCoy’s five wins place him out in front as the most successful rider in the history of the race, but with Nico de Boinville still going strong, he may soon be joined at the top.
Christmas Hurdle: Finishing Position Last Time Out – 2000 to 2022
A victory in the immediate form of a runner is always encouraging. A win on their most recent racecourse appearance has proven a strong pointer in this race, with 15 of 23 winners (65%) arriving on the back of a success. 91% of runners at least finished in the first three last time out, with the only exceptions being Straw Bear (2007) and Harchibald (2008). Straw Bear improved markedly to come home in front, but Harchibald wasn’t expected to win his prep race, which came over 1m4f on the all-weather at Dundalk.
Fresh is Best – 2000 to 2022
Coming towards the midpoint of the National Hunt season, most top hurdlers will have at least one run under their belts as they head to Kempton – whether that be a tilt at another valuable prize or a tune-up ahead of their shot at the big one. Only the brilliant but sadly ill-fated Darlan (2012) won this on his seasonal reappearance. At the other end of the scale, the rapidly progressive, Jazz Messenger, already had five outings to his name when causing a shock in 2006. Overall, those with just one previous outing boast the best record, with 13 or 23 winners (56.53%) falling into that category.
Christmas Hurdle: Most Informative Races – 2000 to 2022
All manner of preparations have proved successful in the current century, with Verdana Blue (2018) joining Harchibald in having been given a spin on the flat to limber up for this assignment. Nevertheless, by far the most common journey has taken the winner to the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. 11 of 23 winners (47.83%) arrived following an outing in the Newcastle showpiece, with eight also coming home in front at Gosforth Park.
Fate of the Favourite – 2000 to 2022
This race has proven a happy hunting ground for supporters of the market leader in recent years. Between 2000 and 2022, 13 of the 23 favourites or joint-favourites did the business – just over half of whom were trained by Nicky Henderson. That represents an impressive 56.52% strike rate but hasn’t exactly provided a road to riches for jolly backers. With prices of 8/11, 4/11, 1/4, 2/11, 4/5, and 1/7 included in the tally, a £1 level stakes bet on the favourite would have returned a profit – but only to the tune of 84p.
Overall, the market very rarely gets this too far wrong, with no fewer than 22 of the 23 winners returning a single-figure SP – the one exception being the Nick Gifford-trained 10/1 shot Straw Bear, who got up to deny Harchibald by a head in 2007, with the 8/11 favourite producing one of his infamous “clutching defeat from the jaws of victory” displays.