The Old Newton Cup, run over 1 mile 4 furlongs at Haydock, is one of the oldest and most prestigious races of the season at the Newton-le-Willows track. Like all the other so-called “Heritage” handicaps, it’s invariably well contested and is, in fact, one of our favourite races of the year.

A maximum field of 17 runners is set to face the starter on Saturday but, as usual, we’ve investigated the recent trends in the race in an effort to unearth a likely winner. To qualify for our shortlist week, runners must have:

  • won at Haydock, or be making their course debut
  • won on a left-handed track
  • won no more than three handicaps on turf
  • won over a distance between 1 mile 2 furlongs and 1 mile 4 furlongs
  • never won at higher than Class 2

Our course criterion immediately puts paid to the chances of John Reel, Battersea, Gabrial’s King and Kinema as far as we’re concerned, while Watersmeet, Notarised and Penhill can also be eliminated on the grounds of having won more than the three requisite handicaps on turf. Excellent Guest was a Group 2 winner last season, so can be similarly discarded, but that still leaves us with a ‘shortlist’ of nine.

Further investigation of recent trends reveals although all of the last ten winners had won over a distance between 10 and 12 furlongs, inclusive, eight of them had won over a distance of 12 furlongs or further. Unfortunately, all of the remaining nine runners, bar Nancy From Nairobi, are distance winners, so this extra information isn’t particularly helpful either.

However, six of the last ten winners of the Old Newton Cup had previously won at Haydock so, if we “tweak” our initial criterion, so that we ignore those runners making their course debut, we’re left with a manageable shortlist of the four course and distance winners.

Great Hall is 10lb better off for the 3¼ lengths he finished behind Notarised on his seasonal reappearance at York in May and, although absent since, must have a decent chance of reversing the form. That said, he hasn’t won for two years and is still 10lb higher in the weights than when last winning, so doesn’t leap off the page as a readymade winner-in-waiting.

Farquhar was well beaten in the November Handicap at Doncaster and in a Listed race on his reappearance in May. He remains 7lb higher in the weights than when winning at Newmarket last October and probably needs softer ground in any case, so isn’t difficult to pass over.

Gabrial’s Star has been campaigned over 2 miles and beyond on his last three starts, but has won a couple of times at, or around, 1 mile 4 furlongs. However, he’s another who’s done all his winning on soft ground so, unless the heavy rain and thunderstorms forecast for parts of the country arrive on Merseyside, he may find underfoot conditions faster than ideal.

Watersmeet has won four of his six starts this season and was far from disgraced when fifth of seventeen, beaten 3½ lengths, behind Arab Dawn in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot last month. That race has proved a decent trial for the Old Newton Cup in recent years and it’s possible that his still has some improvement left in him. He’s Joe Fanning’s only ride of the afternoon for Mark Johnston and looks fair value at 8/1 in the ante post lists.

Selection: Watersmeet (8/1 generally available) to win