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2022 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
|Vera Verto||33/1||Ante Post
2022 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
Date of Tips: 12/01/2022
Disclaimer The odds for these selections were correct at the time of publishing (12:50 12/01/2022) but may have changed since. Please check the latest price before placing your bet.
No one likes a wise guy (or gal), in any walk of life. And last week was a perfect storm for them – given the release of entries for some of the Grade 1 chases at the Cheltenham Festival, many layers opening up books on Cheltenham Festival handicaps, and a couple of firms also going Non-Runner, No Bet on selected races.
The airwaves were rife with early fancies, snapping up of prices, and wherever there’s those willing to take opportunities presented to themselves, there are as many (if not more) cynics and naysayers. It’s what makes the world go round it seems!
Given a large chunk of my betting methodology is centred around the Cheltenham Festival, I am always on the lookout for opportunities.
When you have fairly liquid, well populated and extensive betting options available almost for months in advance of (sometimes!) predictable events, why would you not try and make a few quid?
So, this time of the year is my busiest time, and last week I was cursing the widescale plunge (if you can call it that) on the Gordon Elliott-trained Britzka for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, run on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Since he ran a mightily eye-catching 3rd in the Grade 2 juvenile hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, behind Triumph Hurdle favourite and stablemate Fil Dor, Britzka was firmly on my radar for the closing handicap on the Tuesday of the Festival.
I was cursing myself (and the wise-guys and gals!) for missing out on an opportunity, as last week he was mentioned on podcasts, video clips and columns left, right and centre – such that the best you could get was 10/1, and some firms had run for cover at 7/1!
Ah well, opportunity missed I concluded.
Fast forward a few days to Sunday of last week, and Britzka was running in the juvenile hurdle used by trainer Gordon Elliott to help prep his last two winners of the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Aramax and Veneer Of Charm. They were both well beaten in the race by the way.
Given Britzka had already won a juvenile hurdle previously, and then ran eye-catchingly well in a Grade 2, a prominent showing just two weeks after that Leopardstown run would place the handicapper and bookmakers on red alert for sure.
So, fully expecting a nice run without being overly knocked about, on a track that favoured prominent racers all meeting, Britzka was given a lovely wide, held-up passage through the race, and then ultimately not given a hard time when his chance had gone.
For the cynics among you who are thinking that I am suggesting that Britzka wasn’t given every chance to win the race, I would suggest I am more likely using my nous to pre-empt the function of the run.
Given it came so soon after a big effort in a Grade 2, and with the notable addition of a tongue-tie, it was eminently predictable that he wouldn’t be at his best.
It was a case of job done for connections in giving him his third run to qualify for the Cheltenham Festival handicap, and the market responded by going from giving Britzka a 12.5% chance of winning the Boodles in a place, before that Fairyhouse run, to in another place, a less than 3% chance of winning. Quite extraordinary! As I wouldn’t mind betting that connections would view his chance to have increased if anything.
That one place is Bet365, and at 33/1 each-way for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, I can’t resist advising trying to take that price about Britzka. I’m fully aware that many won’t be able to even smell that price with that firm, but Britzka is 20/1 with SkyBet, and 16/1 or 18/1 everywhere else.
Anything 16/1 could easily be a shade of value come the day, so take this as my full-on wise-guy selection for the Boodles, and bring on the abuse!
Of course, when handicaps are in mind, much will depend on what the UK handicapper does when entries are out, but I’m not overly fussed on that score. Anything 135 or over would be harsh, but surely on his form, the handicapper can’t justify that high a rating?
Britzka has a remarkably similar profile to Veneer Of Charm and Flaxen Flare, two of Elliott’s three previous winners of the race, and also to Plan A, who was a well backed favourite who finished 4th in the race for Elliott in 2011.
Those three were rated 75, 83 and 72 when they were shrewdly purchased by Elliott, and while Britzka has a little to find on those with his flat rating of 66, it won’t be long before a few flat wins next campaign raise that into the 80’s. Plus, that low a rating would have been a large part in the temptation to buy the horse.
Britzka has other similarities with previous Boodles horses for the yard, in that he has worn headgear on the flat, and could be the recipient of some form of adornment come Tuesday 15th March.
If Britzka was anywhere near last week’s price of between 7/1 and 10/1, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near writing this piece, but after a run that, in my view, only served to enhance his chances of winning the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, my view has changed dramatically.
So, at 33/1 each-way with Bet365, he is a recommendation from me, with the proviso that I would back him at any price down to 16/1.
There are others on my radar for the race, but until price availability on them increases a little, I am going to keep schtum for now…
With the action thin on the ground for the next day or two, it seems the ideal time to launch into another look at the ante-post markets for Cheltenham Festival, and to try and get to the bottom of one or two of the handicaps. It may well be fateful words trying to foresee what will happen over the next two months, but some clues are out in the open air and some of the markets are beginning to finally take shape.
My colleague, Will Smith, made a very compelling case for a horse in the Boodles Handicap earlier this week, so check that article / video out when you can, which almost swayed me away from my horse. However, I have a selection for the same race – the Boodles Handicap Hurdle on Day One of the Cheltenham Festival.
The juvenile division is often a hard division to get a handle on, but there are often some decent races which provide good steers. One of those races can often be the 3YO maiden hurdle at Leopardstown on the 27th December. It has been won in the past by types such as Ivanovich Gorbatov and Sir Erec, so the list of honours looks strong. Icare Allen was a nice winner of the race this year, winning snugly on the line and he looks the type of horse to keep improving into a grader performer.
However, that is not the type of horse you need for this race, and it only takes peering a few lengths back from Icare Allen to find Vera Verto – who looks all over a Boodles type for Gavin Cromwell. This filly has ran twice over hurdles thus far, when finishing second by a head at Cork on debut before finishing third in the race at Leopardstown. Both runs were full of promise, and she showed a good aptitude for the game, with some good jumping and an ability to finish her races off well – which will suit given the likely pace of the race in the Boodles.
Cromwell acquired Vera Verto off Jack Davison, who is an up and coming handler on the flat, and this horse showed more than enough ability in that sphere, finishing off her time with Davison with a rating of 86. That is often a nice type of mark to go Juvenile Hurdling with and her two efforts have been filled with considerable promise. To qualify for the handicap at Cheltenham, she will have to run again once more to get her handicap mark, and in truth, she might want to be finishing nearer first than last to ensure she gets in.
However, I have been given a good steer that this horse has only this race in target and there are races at both Fairyhouse and Naas in the coming weeks which will both perfectly fit the bill for what Vera Verto is looking for – as she continues her education. The last four winners of the race have been unexposed Irish raiders and since the race’s inception – there have been four fillies who have won the race, so it can be done and the statistics are not against her.
There are more bookmakers giving out prices for this race than there were around a week ago, and as a result we have some varying prices. Some bookmakers are going 33/1, including SkyBet – who are offering 5 places each way in their Ante-Post terms, which seems highly generous. She is as short as 25s with Paddy Power and William Hill, but that still looks like a tidy price in my eyes and I would be backing her at this stage for any price in excess of 20s.
However, 33/1 with SkyBet does seem the play on this occasion – and I will be siding with Vera Verto for the Boodles Handicap Hurdle on Tuesday at Cheltenham.
Earlier this week, Nicky Henderson threw the curveball of Champ running in the Game Spirit Chase over 2m at Newbury on Sunday, as his prep run for the 3m2f Cheltenham Gold Cup in just over four weeks’ time.
It is these next few weeks where connections will do everything possible to ensure they get their horses to their Cheltenham Festival target in the rudest of health, but also there will be some rushing around to ensure horses are qualified for certain races.
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, now being run on the opening Tuesday, is one such race – as the four-year-olds in question need to have had three runs over hurdles to qualify. A quick glance at the market with many bookmakers features a whole host of horses who haven’t satisfied such requirements.
When entries for the race close next Tuesday, we will see a refined market, but it might be worth investing each-way bets now in two horses who look very likely to head here, and are both double figure prices, despite having Grade 1-placed juvenile form to push their claims.
Saint Sam at 10/1 and Busselton at 14/1 are both top price with William Hill, who are also offering five places for each-way bets on the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. Not only that, but they both represent the two strongest pieces of juvenile form on either side of the Irish Sea so far this season.
Saint Sam has had six hurdle starts, three in his native France and then three for Willie Mullins, winning two of them. Despite yet to win for the Mullins juggernaut, he has strongly suggested that he is improving, confirmed by the fact that he was beaten under 6 lengths on his last two starts, behind the two Gordon Elliott-trained horses that sit atop the Triumph Hurdle market, Zanahiyr and Quilixios. On both occasions, he was value for more than the bare form.
Saint Sam has an official Irish handicap hurdle mark of 136, which will be re-adjusted to somewhere in the low 140’s you would imagine by the UK handicapper. It would give him near top weight in the race, but he has earnt that, and will surely take in the Boodles as a more likely winning option, compared to the Triumph, given he has been beaten fair and square by the aforementioned Elliott-trained pair, and Mullins also has French Aseel to run in the Triumph.
Busselton is less experienced, having had only the three hurdle starts, and indeed only two have come on this side of the English Channel for Joseph O’Brien. These were the same two Graded races that Saint Sam was involved in behind Zanahiyr and Quilixios. Busselton was second in the Grade 2 at Leopardstown at Christmas, and then third in the Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival, and has been allotted a mark of 133.
This would suggest he has a bit to find with Saint Sam, and while that may be the case on form, he is open to a chunk of improvement for the same trainer that won the Boodles in 2019 with Band Of Outlaws.
Joseph O’Brien might have a decent hand in the race, as he will probably also saddle Druid’s Altar, who won the race at Naas last weekend that has thrown up the last two winners of the Boodles. While, Gordon Elliott and Paul Nicholls are dab hands at getting a juvenile to produce an improved performance in this race.
But I see no reason to divert away from the proven Graded form of Saint Sam and Busselton, at 10/1 and 14/1 respectively now, both with William Hill.