The nights are drawing in, the weather has taken a chilly turn, but for some of us it's the best time of the year. Not just because Christmas is on the way but because The Ladbrokes Christmas Festival is almost upon us, with horse betting odds already available for horse racing fans.
The National Hunt horse racing season is the best thing about dreary winter weather for punters, horse lovers and anyone who enjoys a day out in the country. Watching every single one of these magnificent creatures fly over fences and thunder past the winning post is truly exhilarating, but there are two horses who have stood out from the rest over the years, Desert Orchid and Kauto Star.
These horses proved time and time again that they had that star quality. We're going to take a look back at exactly what made them so very special to this festival and how the festival has immortalised them in return.
King George VI Chase
Without a doubt the race that made these horses so very famous is The King George VI Chase. It's the most anticipated race of the festival and the second richest in the jump racing calendar, next to the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Whilst any horse over four years old can enter this three-mile challenge, there are two horses who have records that far outshine anyone else's, Kauto Star and Desert Orchid. Desert Orchid first flew over the eighteen fences back in 1986, taking the prize money with him. The great grey horse would achieve the same feat again in 1988, 1989, and 1990, making him the first horse ever to win four times, stealing three-time winner Wayward Lad's thunder.
His connections were keen to see him take the title of his fifth race in 1991, but it wasn't to be. The bold, front running grey made a real go of it, but fell. Seeing him struggle was not something that any of the people who love him wanted, so they called it a day and retired Dessie.
There wouldn't be another horse to even come close to challenging Desert Orchid's reign until Paul Nicholls entered the up and coming 6-year-old into the race in 2006. Nicholls had trained the double winner See More Business already, so knew what it took to win the race and had a lot of faith in the lightly raced Kauto Star. It turned out he was exactly right, Kauto Star took to the testing course like a natural and came home victorious. What nobody could have predicted is that Kauto Star would repeat the feat four times in a row.
2010 would be the year that the plucky horse would try for a fifth time, but it wasn't to be. The race was postponed due to a badly flooded track, meaning the horse wasn't as fit in the season as had been hoped. He came a valiant third, but with a nosebleed on the run in, Paul Nicholls conceded that may-be that would be his last try at the race.
However, in 2011, with Ruby Walsh back in the saddle, Kauto Star looked as though he'd never struggled as he stormed home to beat Long Run, the horse that took the 2010 title. Plucky perfor-mances like these really do come once in a lifetime and for Kauto Star, he'd have just one more race before earning a lengthy retirement.
Desert Orchid Chase
For the original king of the chase, a race was named in his honour. He made numerous public appearances after his retirement, including leading out the parade for the King George VI Chase every single year until he passed away. He reached the grand old age of 27 and passed with connections by his side just died two months before the Christmas Festival in the October of 2006.
To commemorate the great horse, The Desert Orchid Chase is now run on the second day of the Ladbrokes Christmas Festival. It's run over a short distance of two miles with twelve testing fences along the way. Just before the first running of the race, his ashes were scattered just beforehand to celebrate the course where he truly made a name for himself.
The Kauto Star Bar
Kauto Star doesn't have a race named after him at the festival, but he does have his very own bar at Kempton Park, home of the chase that made him so famous. The talented bay gelding features heavily in the bar with pictures of every single one of his King George wins adorning the walls.
Not only this, but you'll find the famous colours of his racing silks behind glass, as well as what's fondly known as a 'Kautograph' or a hoof print of his alongside a stunning painting of the horse. Visitors to the bar have to pay a premium to enter, but are rewarded with views of the weighing room, its own betting facilities and a private bar.
There are more interesting articles in our section on Horse Racing.