Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post: Pertemps Handicap Hurdle

January is the traditional start of my weekly Ante-Post articles for the Cheltenham Festival, and although I have already published one for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, I am now ready to fall back into the usual pattern! This week I have two selections for the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle, and although one might be fairly short in the betting, he is only going to get shorter the closer we get to the Festival. As well as my two selections for the race I also have quite an in-depth look at the Pertemps trends, with three tables that I hope you will find useful. The world is a little bleak right now having been locked down once again – but let’s try and keep things positive, and let the countdown to Cheltenham begin!

Gordon Elliot is the King of Cheltenham Festival Handicaps, and boy does he know how to plot one for the big day. When you hear the word ‘plot’ you often think of a Flat Horse running in 6f Maidens before suddenly winning loads of Handicaps over 1m4f off marks in the 60s (did somebody say Sir Mark Prescott?), or Horses who win a nice pot and ‘play the system’ to get back down to the same mark the following year – but plotting for a Cheltenham Festival Handicap can come in many different forms. The Bosses Oscar was an example of that last season; starting out by winning a Bumper at Thurles in October, before then running in what now looks a really hot 2m4f Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown. The winner that day was 2019 Champion Bumper 2nd Blue Sari (140), but The Bosses Oscar ran a nice race to get within half-a-length of him, especially considering he was unlucky in running (it’s not sounding much like a plot right now is it!). As I mentioned that race is working out strongly even this season; with Brinkley (130) third, recent Grade 2 Novice Hurdle winner Ashdale Bob fourth, and the race producing 9 further winners down the field.

Connections sent The Bosses Oscar to Leopardstown over Christmas for another 2m4½f Maiden Hurdle, where this time he got off the mark in good style. Being cajoled into the race by Davy Russell, The Bosses Oscar swept through from mid-division to join the leaders at the final flight and then stay on strongly up the run in to win going away – scoring by 4 lengths back to Fun Light and Jon Snow (145). Following that run, connections were aiming to run The Bosses Oscar in a 2m4f Grade B Handicap Hurdle at Navan last January off a mark of just 129, but he was a non-runner on the day due to a ‘temperature’ – although that was probably a blessing in disguise considering the type of damage he could have done to his rating heading towards Cheltenham. Instead he ran in a 2m4½f Novice Hurdle at Thurles in February, where once more he ran a more than satisfactory race in terms of Handicapping – this time finishing 2.5 lengths behind French Dynamite (now rated 149) when trying to give away 4lbs. On the face of it that form looks good considering what the winner has gone on to achieve since (finishing 2nd in the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle at Navan) and that’s because it is, but if you go back and watch the race you very much get the impression that The Bosses Oscar was only there for a run around – just needing his third run over Hurdles to qualify for a Handicap mark at Cheltenham (oh, now it looks more like a plot…).

Arriving at his first Cheltenham Festival with a lovely mark of just 138, The Bosses Oscar contested the 2m4½f Class 2 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle – and he had a great Jockey booking as you’d expect from a Gordon Elliot runner, with Sean O’Keeffe doing the steering. That’s pretty much where the fairytale ‘plot’ story ends with The Bosses Oscar however, as they ended up having a standing start in the race – and having missed the break he got completely mullered by stablemate Escaria Ten. Finding yourself in the rear of a big field Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham when it was unlikely to have ever been the plan always sets you on the back foot from the get go, and the type of issues you face were highlighted at the second Hurdle – when it got kicked down in-front of The Bosses Oscar and he nearly tripped over it. Making a mistake at the second flight down the back straight, The Bosses Oscar found himself in last place at this point – and Sean O’Keeffe was quite visibly unhappy when trying to coax him back into the race from such an early stage. Still near the rear and being ridden along at the second last flight, The Bosses Oscar didn’t really start to make much headway until reaching the foot of the hill – where he then began to motor through the pack. When stablemate Column Of Fire fell at the last however it would cause yet another obstacle for him to overcome, as Flash The Steel had to cut straight across from the right of The Bosses Oscar to avoid being brough down, and somehow directly to his left My Sister Sarah was brough down – so he did remarkably well to stay on his feet. Completing his brutal trip around Prestbury Park in the most pleasing fashion however, The Bosses Oscar displayed bundles of stamina to keep going and take fifth in a pretty decent race – with Indefatigable (151) 1st, Pileon (143) 2nd, subsequent Cesarewitch winner Great White Shark (146) 3rd, and Happygolucky (147) 4th.

By the way I’ve worded the last couple of paragraphs you can clearly tell I think this lad is all about stamina, and he’s had his chance to start proving that this season. Making his seasonal re-appearance at Thurles in October, The Bosses Oscar ran in a 2m6½f conditions Hurdle and showcased it straight away – taking on Robin Des Foret (148 Chaser) from quite a long way out before going on to score in game fashion by an eventual 2.25 lengths. Unchanged from an official rating of 137, The Bosses Oscar’s next assignment came in a Grade B Handicap Hurdle over 3m at Navan – where he was sent off a warm 3/1 favourite. On face value being beaten 12 lengths into second place seems like quite a disappointing effort, but the winner that day was none other than Gavin Cromwell’s Flooring Porter (159) – who has of course since gone on to win the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle by 6 lengths. Considering The Bosses Oscar was trying to give that rival 1lb that day (A now Grade 1 winner got to race in a Handicap off a mark of just 136!) it suddenly doesn’t seem such a bad effort, and once more he did show guts and determination to take second place by just a neck.

With that solid effort in the bag and the Handicapper only putting him up 1lb to an Irish Handicap mark of 138, all The Bosses Oscar had to do on his next start at Leopardstown over Christmas was qualify for the Pertemps Final – so he just needed to finish in the top 6 of a 20 runner field. I’m not sure if the late Jockey change of Jack Kennedy to Bryan Cooper caused any communication issues about that, but my eye-brows were certainly raised when The Bosses Oscar flew through the field to lead at the last – but thankfully for his mark’s sake Paul Townend came over the top with Dandy Mag (142) to score by a length, with The Bosses Oscar running a perfectly good race in second. He may have ended up closer to the winner than connections were originally planning at Leopardstown, but the Irish Handicapper has actually been quite reasonable in raising him 5lbs to a mark of 143 – and although the British Handicapper will add at least a couple extra to that, it should leave him on an official rating which he is more than capable of exploiting come March.

Considering the Pertemps Final is a unique Handicap, I’ve got a lot more trends to go through than with a Graded race – but we’ll start off with the traditional recent winners list…

YearWinnerAgeWeightTrainerJockey
2020Sire Du Berlais (FR)811-12Gordon ElliotBarry Geraghty
2019Sire Du Berlais (FR)711-9Gordon ElliotBarry Geraghty
2018Delta Work (FR)510-10Gordon ElliotDavy Russell
2017Presenting Percy (GB)611-11Patrick KellyDavy Russell
2016Mall Dini (IRE)610-11Patrick KellyDavy Russell
2015Call The Cops (IRE)610-12Nicky HendersonAndrew Tinkler
2014Fingal Bay (IRE)811-12Philip HobbsRichard Johnson
2013Holywell (IRE)611-4Jonjo O’NeillRichie McLernon
2012Cape Tribulation (GB)810-11Malcolm JeffersonDenis O’Regan
2011Buena Vista (IRE)1010-3David PipeConor O’Farrell (5)
  • The mean average age of a Pertemps Final winner since 2011 is 7, but the most common winning age is 6.
  • Ireland have taken home each of the last 5 renewals – with Gordon Elliot making it a hat-trick last year.
  • Gordon Elliot’s recent record in the race (all runners): 2016 – 4th, 2017 – 3rd & 5th, 2018 – 1st & 2nd, 2019 – 1st & 5th, 2020 – 1st & 2nd
  • Davy Russell boasts the best recent record (111-2) among Jockeys, with Irish-based riders once again key having won 6 of the last 10 renewals.
  • Sire Du Berlais became only the second Horse in the last 10 years to win the Pertemps off top weight.

Next I’ve got a table showing the official Handicap ratings of the winners, as well as the bottom and top weight for reference:

YearWinnerOfficial Rating of WinnerOfficial Rating of Bottom WeightOfficial Rating of Top Weight
2020Sire Du Berlais (FR)152131152
2019Sire Du Berlais (FR)145134148
2018Delta Work (FR)139135155
2017Presenting Percy (GB)146137147
2016Mall Dini (IRE)139135154
2015Call The Cops (IRE)138135152
2014Fingal Bay (IRE)148135148
2013Holywell (IRE)140135148
2012Cape Tribulation (GB)142137157
2011Buena Vista (IRE)138133156
Average142.7134.7151.7
  • The average rating required to get into the race over the past 10 years is 135, with the average top weight being rated 152.
  • The average rating of the winner is 143 over the same time period.

Finally, with the nature of the Pertemps Final you need to Qualify by finishing in the top 6 of various Qualifying races which are held throughout the season. Below is some analysis as to how the past 10 winners have qualified for the Final:

YearWinnerAgeRatingHighest finishing position in a QualifierRacecourse QualifiedMonth
2020Sire Du Berlais (FR)81524thWarwickJanuary
2019Sire Du Berlais (FR)71456thLeopardstownDecember
2018Delta Work (FR)51393rdPunchestownFebruary
2017Presenting Percy (GB)61464thPunchestownFebruary
2016Mall Dini (IRE)61393rdPunchestownFebruary
2015Call The Cops (IRE)61384thKemptonNovember
2014Fingal Bay (IRE)81481stExeterFebruary
2013Holywell (IRE)61402ndWarwickJanuary
2012Cape Tribulation (GB)81424thHaydockFebruary
2011Buena Vista (IRE)101387thCheltenhamOctober
  • The average finishing position for a Horse’s HIGHEST (in a few cases Horses have ran in more than one Qualifier) Qualifying run is 4th (3.8th).
  • Punchestown’s February Qualifier has produced the most winners of the Pertemps (3), which helps to make February the most productive month for Qualifiers to go on and win the race (5).

Looking at the checklist whilst reading through the trends; The Bosses Oscar is six, is trained by Gordon Elliot in Ireland, is currently rated spot on 143 in Ireland (although the British Handicapper will inevitably add a few lbs extra), and Davy Russell is a possible Jockey booking. Considering he Qualified for the race at Leopardstown in December he is a little early on that trend, but Sire Du Berlais managed the feat in 2019.

My second selection for the Pertemps Final come is another Gordon Elliot runner; this time being Column Of Fire. Last season I was all over this Gigginstown runner for the Martin Pipe, having put him up at a nice price and firmly believing that he was just a better Horse than The Bosses Oscar. On the day I was almost proven right, but his final flight fall was agonising to watch considering the way he was moving into the race. Regardless of that mishap, I’d still regard likely winner Column Of Fire as having good course/Festival form, and he must have a great chance if qualifying for the Pertemps Final.

Last season this seven-year-old ran some really nice races in Novice Hurdles, finishing third behind Elixir D’ainay (149) and Longhouse Poet (145) at Naas in November 2019 before then filling the runners up spot behind Longhouse Poet once again at Navan, when having Opposites Attract (136) behind. He fell two out when cruising on New Year’s Day 2020 at Fairyhouse when looking certain to beat Home By The Lee (139) and Aione (138), but he finally got off the mark over Hurdles 14 days later at Punchestown, hacking up by 13 lengths. All those solid efforts earnt himself a lovely Irish Handicap rating of 132 when making his debut in that sphere at the Dublin Racing Festival last season, where he ran in the 3m Grade B William Fry Handicap Hurdle. The fact that Gordon Elliot pitched him into a competitive 3m Handicap Hurdle probably tells you a lot about his thinking for this Horse’s future, and considering I’d backed him for Cheltenham before the race he nearly gave me a heart attack – as he stayed on so strongly after the last in third place, only being beaten 1.75 lengths in total by Treacysenniscorthy (139) and The Jam Man (143). His subsequent English mark of 143 at Cheltenham certainly didn’t look beyond him before coming down at the last, but the way he stuck to his task and showed a lot of stamina over 3m would really get you excited for him having a tilt at the Pertemps this year.

Now clearly there are questions marks surrounding him else he wouldn’t be the price that is currently available; the biggest of those being that he is only due to make his seasonal reappearance at Navan on Saturday (23rd January), meaning he will have been off the track for 316 days. It’s a major positive that we’re seeing Column Of Fire back on track this weekend however, as he did have an entry on New Year’s Eve without taking it up – so although there may have been an issue earlier on in the season, I think it’s safe to assume that he’s been nearly ready to run for the best part of a month. It’s also a positive that Gordon Elliot has booked a 7lbs claimer in what looks a competitive Grade B Handicap, as I’m sure the plan will be to get nowhere near winning it – but rather just give the Horse a nice jog around to regain some race fitness and set him up perfectly for his next assignment. That next assignment will be the most crucial to this Ante-Post bet as it also will answer the second question mark; that being he would still need to qualify for the Pertemps Final in order to run. I’m sure once Gordon new Column Of Fire wouldn’t be out until after Christmas this plan was put together by design however, as Punchestown hold their infamous Pertemps Qualifier on the 24th February – exactly a month after his pipe-opener this weekend. As mentioned in the trends, that race has produced 3 of the last 5 Pertemps winners – including Gordon Elliot’s own Delta Work in 2018. With this all considered, backing Column Of Fire now makes a lot of sense to me with 20/1 on offer, and whilst there are clearly some obstacles to overcome, Gordon Elliot is the perfect man for the job.

Just to quickly touch on his rating, Column Of Fire is currently rated 145 in Ireland. If he is barely sighted this weekend and then only ridden to finish in the top 6 at Punchestown, then I’d say there is every chance that he could end up being dropped a few pounds by the Irish Handicapper. Allowing for the British Handicapper to then add those pounds back on and probably a couple extra for good measure, I predict he’ll be given a mark of no worse than 149 for the Pertemps Final (anything better is a bonus) – which although may seem a little high, is clearly not beyond him with the untapped potential of stepping up in trip.

Added 09:00 22/01/21

Considering The Bosses Oscar is already on an Irish Handicap mark of 143 Gordon Elliot will want to tread carefully if giving him another run before the Cheltenham Festival – but The Bosses Oscar still looks well Handicapped on his form to date and there is surely more improvement to come when he is fully ‘let go’ over three-miles for the first time. His run at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival is probably one that his connections would like to forget, but that experience won’t be lost on the Horse, and the way he finished out his race up the infamous Hill is a big positive towards his chances in the Pertemps Final this season. Gordon Elliot will be looking for his fourth consecutive win in the race this season so clearly he knows exactly how to prime a Pertemps Horse for the big day, and the fact that even his place record is so strong would lead you to believe that The Bosses Oscar will feature in the finish – even if a better Handicapped Horse turns up on the day. The current 8/1 available might not be the biggest price for a Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post bet in January, but The Bosses Oscar is already qualified for the race so there are very minimal concerns regarding his participation. If he does make it to the Cheltenham Festival then he surely won’t be available at much bigger than 5/1 on the day.

Good luck! – Jake Price

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