We're used to the best older-horse sprint handicaps consistently producing horses ready for Group races, but only the Old Newton Cup really delivers the same for middle-distance horses on a regular basis. Collier Hill (three Group 1s), Alkaased (two Group 1s), Dangerous Midge (Breeders' Cup Turf) and Star Lahib (French Group 2) in the last dozen years have all gone on to Group-level success after winning the race. Even last year, the runner-up Pallasator went on to score at listed level and finish third on Champions Day.
Given the profile of those horses, it's no surprise that Luca Cumani holds by far the best recent record in the race. This is surely part of the reason that the market has forgiven Penhill for a poor run last time, appointing him joint-favourite alongside Astronereus. Nonetheless, of the two we prefer him over his chief market rival.
Penhill hasn't had long with Cumani, coming through the ranks with James Bethell last year before changing hands for £230,000 over the winter. Everything points to Penhill being targeted at a big handicap, from his transfer to Cumani to the way he's shaped in two starts this year, both suggesting there's more to come. He won the first time, guaranteeing he'd be high enough in the weights to get into races like this, then last time just seeming not to be suited by Newmarket. On a more regulation track, he can get back on the progressive path and it's not doubted that he deserves to be high on the list.
He's not top of the list, though; not at the prices. Penhill's form doesn't stack up quite as well as that of Battersea, whose best form at three suggests he could be one to make the leap to Group company from the platform of the Old Newton Cup.
Second to Maid In Rio (off 78) on his second start, Battersea would then win twice at Ascot. On the first occasion, he beat four horses that have all improved significantly since. The second time, in a Heritage Handicap, he beat a strong field in decisive fashion from a wide position. The form has worked out as well as would have been expected, with third-placed Agent Murphy and Second Step (seventh) doing particularly well.
Battersea flopped at Newmarket on his final start, presumably amiss, and that he's missed eight months since is a concern. However, you doubt Roger Varian would aim at this race for his return unless he were fit, while the booking of Graham Lee is a further statement of intent in that regard. With his fitness assured, Battersea might be favourite. As it is, he should be closer to Penhill than he currently is.
As you can imagine, the list of others that would have a legitimate chance is a long one. The market nudges Watersmeet and Curbyourenthusiasm to the top, though we'd respectfully disagree. Watersmeet has his quirks and has already gone up a long way in the weights this year, seeming to have few excuses in the Duke of Edinburgh last time when he was a wholly creditable fifth.
Curbyourenthusiasm has taken off this year, winning twice at Windsor under Jamie Spencer. Whether Spencer will ride here is not yet clear, while this will of course provide a totally different test from the races he's been winning, which have been only a little better than everyday.
We'd be inclined to suggest that Mighty Yar deserves a bit more respect than he's currently being afforded. He was a clear second to Kings Fete (ultimately went off 12/1 for the St Leger) at York around this time last year from the same mark over the same distance. It's fancied he'll stay further, but for now 12 furlongs seems close to his optimum. As such, his return over 10 can be taken as promising, certainly suggesting a return to further with how he shaped.
There's also reason to be positive about Wadi Al Hattawi. Last year he won easily on his return and we didn't see the best of him afterwards: he was an unlucky seventh (shaped as though worthy of a place) in the Duke of Edinburgh and then seemingly failed to stay in the Ebor. Like Battersea he hasn't run yet, though that in itself leaves scope for improvement should he be ready on his return.
That we're more confident of Battersea's readiness goes a long way to explaining why he's the bet. That, along with his excellent form lines from last season, combine to make him the most interesting challenger in this year's Old Newton Cup, the sort to become another graduate from the race that can become a force at a higher level.
Back Battersea in the Old Newton Cup