Pertemps Network Final, 3m, Thursday, March 17, 2.10pm
Key Stat: Trainer Jonjo O’Neill has saddled the winner four times since 1989
A productive handicap for Jonjo O’Neill and leading owner J P McManus. O’Neill saddled his first Cheltenham Festival winner when Danny Connors landed a gamble in this race in 1989 and he has since added three more victories.
Two of O’Neill’s four winners were owned by McManus whose Kadoun, trained by Michael O’Brien, was also successful in this race at 50/1. McManus also owned the David Pipe-trained runner-up Unique De Cotte last season.
Nicky Henderson’s Call The Cops became the latest ‘last time out’ winner when triumphing in 2015. That now means half (50pc) the winners of this race going back to 1995 were successful last time out.
That could be a profitable statistic as only around 20 per cent of the field this year will fit that profile.
It has been 10 years since the Irish last won it – but they have had three of the last six runners-up.
Five-year-olds have a poor record with just one victory in the race’s history (first run in 1974) while three of the last seven winners finished in the first five in the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock in November.
As for the qualifying races (in which a horse must finish in the first six to be eligible for the final for the first time), the most successful has been the first of the series, run here in October, as it has featured three of the last 12 winners.
Other trainers to note are Donald McCain with two winners and a narrow runner-up while Call the Cops gave Nicky Henderson a third winner in this contest last year and he saddled the 1-2 in 2002 and 2005.