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.
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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.
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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.