As you rip open presents, stuff down turkey until you’re nauseous and guzzle mulled wine on December 25, the team at Kempton Park Racecourse will be hard at work preparing for their biggest race of the year.

The Winter Festival on December 26 and 27 includes the famous King George VI Chase, with around 30,000 people expected through the gates over the two days.

Kempton’s general manager Steve Parlett said: “It’s our biggest racing fixture of the year, the biggest festival of our year and it’s one of the biggest races of the year – the King George itself.

“It is just brilliant to see the place fill up. We’ll get 20,000 plus as a crowd here on Boxing Day, a good crowd of 8,000 or 9,000 the day after.

“The quality of horses we have seen, not just in my time but going back to Desert Orchid’s time, is just what you love about jump racing.”

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Kempton Park's clerk of the course, Barney Clifford.

With more than ten times the spectators that watch some of Kempton’s regular meetings, preparations are clearly vital and they begin as early as January.

Parlett said: “It is challenging operationally getting your site ready for that. We have a great team here and we have lots of planning meetings over the year to make sure that we deliver the best possible customer experience.”

That includes extra toilets and catering facilities and a well-drilled team welcoming punters and helping them to leave, especially in light of the lack of trains. They recommend you buy your tickets in advance if you want to get in quicker.

Boxing Day is for the more serious racing fans and includes the marquee King George VI Chase, whose winners have included the likes of the legendary Kauto Star (five times from 2006 to 2011) and Desert Orchid (four times between 1986 and 1990).

One of Clifford’s many duties is to encourage the best horses to enter, and this year’s prospective line-up looks impressive.

He said: “It is very strong. I remember going back to Florida Pearl, Kicking King. You have to go out and try and get those horses to come here.

“I don’t mind picking the phone up to ring trainers. Sometimes they think you’re a bit cheeky but, on the other side, you’re taking note of their horse and their ability and giving them confidence.

“It’s all about competition. For me, it’s all about getting the right horses here.”

For more casual fans and families, December 27 will see a more family-friendly atmosphere with attractions including fairground rides, shows such as the duck herding Quack Pack, donkey rides, face painting and pantomime. And it’s all free for under 18s.

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As well as encouraging the best horses to compete, Clifford’s job is far more wide-reaching and his responsibility for the course means he always has an eye on the weather.

Luckily, he has 14 hectares of frost covers (which cost a whopping £40,000 every time they use them) at his disposal and valuable experience, first as a jump jockey and now 15 years as clerk of the course at Kempton.

He said: “I certainly wouldn’t want to do my job without that experience. Sometimes you walk around like a horse, sometimes you walk around like a trainer or an owner or a jockey, so it gives you a great advantage.”

All of the mammoth preparation doesn’t make Christmas Day itself any less graft for those who work at Kempton Park.

Most of the office-based staff try to go home in the early afternoon on Christmas Eve but many have phone calls and e-mails to answer all through Christmas Day and Clifford and his team don’t get a day off.

Clifford said: “I’ve got a very understanding wife and two children.

“My Christmas Day, I’m normally here about 7.30am. Any oversea travellers, they will arrive about the 21st, 22nd so it is important that their experience is a good experience because we all know what it is like not being at home for Christmas.”

He will supervise the morning exercise, produce going reports, chat to the media and meet up with legendary former jockey Richard Dunwoody, who pops by every Christmas Day to say ‘good morning’ before Clifford can go home to his family.

He said: “We’ll have a late afternoon lunch, then the alarm clock goes off 4.30am Boxing Day morning and off we go.”

Tickets cost from £9.60. Go to