bet365 Old Newton Cup Handicap 1m4f Haydock Saturday – the Old Newton Handicap is well into its second century at the East Lancashire venue, and is one of the most competitive middle distance handicaps in the calendar. It invariably produces an exciting climax, not least last year, when the two Mark Johnston trained animals, Notarised and Watersmeet, fought out a thrilling finish. Having made most of the running on the good/soft surface the former prevailed by 1/2L. Both are entered again and as Maestro Johnston also trained the 2013 winner, Star Lahib, must be of serious interest.
The 5yo Notarised has had a busy time of it since his victory, running eleven times, but only getting his head in front on the one occasion, over two miles on the all weather. However he did put up a decent effort off a mark of 101 at Goodwood in May over 1m6f on his reappearance, when, racing from his preferred position at the head of the field, he only gave best in the last 100yds to the useful Kinema and Monotype, both of whom franked the form next time out. He has disappointed in his next two runs but excuses can be made. He missed the break and had no chance of getting to the front at Royal Ascot, and last week didn’t get home over the 16 1/2f of the “Pitmen’s Derby”. He is only 4lbs higher than last year and back to 12f, if able to assume his leading role, this tough customer will be hard to pass.
Stable mate Watersmeet is 6lbs better off for that 1/2L beating in last year’s renewal, and ran really well last time, finishing second off a mark of 98 in a Newmarket handicap seven weeks ago. Only 1lb higher on Saturday he looks quite well treated but with all this rain about may not be best suited by conditions.
One who won’t be inconvenienced by soft ground is (pictured) Andrew Balding’s 4yo Duretto. He ran a sound race on his reappearance at Ascot in May (12f Gd/fm) where he failed by 1 1/4L to give Saturday’s favourite, King Bolete 2lbs. He was sent off favourite next time for an Epsom handicap off a mark of 94, but losing a shoe could only finish fifth. A winner on soft ground over Ascot’s stiff 12f last July, conditions should hold no fears, so, meeting King Bolete on 6lbs better for that 1 1/4L, with conditions to suit and with a nice racing weight of 8st 11lbs on his back must have a great chance.
King Bolete himself looks a pretty progressive animal, winning tidily over course and distance last time off a mark of 94, 14lbs higher than for his first handicap win at Newbury fourteen months ago. He races off a 6lbs higher mark on Saturday, but with the weather in monsoon mode, a bigger concern would be the likely ground conditions. He did win a maiden on soft ground as a two year old but performing so well on a fast surface, there must be doubts about his ability to handle really testing conditions.
Roger Varian’s other contender, the 5yo entire by Galileo, Battersea, finished a well beaten 8th in last years renewal off a mark of 99 and tries again off a mark of 104. Campaigned in Dubai over the winter he put up some pretty decent performances, winning a handicap (1m6f good) off a mark of 98, and finishing 4th in a Group3 last time. His stamina will undoubtedly be a bonus at the weekend, but he is unproven on soft and with the steadier of 9st7lbs on his back, looks up against it.
Following an injury the Paul Webber trained 5yo Gwafa hasn’t raced on the flat for 21 months, but showed he was fully restored to health when winning the highly competitive Swinton Hurdle over the course at the beginning of May when a strongly backed 6/1 shot. In his last race on the flat in September 2014, he got to within 1 1/2L of Battersea and meets him on 9lbs better terms at the weekend. If indeed back to his best, as is strongly suggested by that blinding performance in the Swinton, he does look well handicapped. Will he handle the ground? Well he has won on “Winter” ground when winning on soft at Fakenham and Gd/Sft at Huntingdon so the omens look good.
David Simcock runs his 4yo, Desert Encounter, and this lightly raced son of Halling looks very interesting. Having raced only seven times he has won the last four. He is the type who only does the bare minimum in his races, making it extremely difficult for the handicapper to get hold of him. He has won over 14f at Newmarket, and has won twice on soft ground, so neither stamina nor the likely going should present problems. He won seven days ago on soft ground of a mark of 91 and it will come as no surprise if he finishes the season racing off a considerably higher mark. Certainly Saturday’s 96 looks “doable” and is one for the shortlist.
E.W. : Desert Encounter (if abs. Gwafa)