The Old Newton Cup is one of the longest serving Flat races, and having been run at Haydock Park since 1899, it's fair to say the race is steeped in the Lancashire tracks history. As one of the most competitive middle-distance handicaps in the racing calendar, it often attracts a quality field, and has been won in the past by horses who have gone on to make their mark in pattern company, most notably Dangerous Midge (2010) and Star Lahib (2013). Four-year-olds have dominated in recent years, with seven of the last 10 winners coming from that age group.
Plenty of the challengers towards the fore of the market for this year's renewal fit that profile, but none more so than Big Country, who has been a revelation for Mick Appleby this season. Purchased out of Charles O'Brien's yard during the winter, this big, lengthy gelding blew his rivals away when making a winning start for new connections in a maiden at Wolverhampton in February, and he hasn't looked back since. He won with plenty in hand in the Rosebery Handicap at Kempton on his next start and, though a little disappointing at first glance at Newmarket after, the form of that race has worked out really well (winner Frontiersman went on to finish second in the Group 1 Coronation Cup). His best effort yet came when winning at York last month, with more in hand than the winning margin of a neck suggests, and a 4 lb rise will more than likely underestimate him. He looks to have plenty in his favour, particularly back over 1½m.
Andrea Atzeni rode Big Country at York last time, but he is currently pencilled in to ride the Sir Michael Stoute-trained four-year-old Shraaoh, who currently heads the ante-post betting for this race. He was heavily backed for his seasonal reappearance at Epsom last month, but ultimately failed to meet those market expectations when a four-length fourth to Soldier In Action. However, Shraaoh left the impression that the race didn't get to the bottom of him, possibly unsuited by the idiosyncratic nature of the track. He is still well handicapped on his narrow defeat to Dal Harraild at Goodwood last season, and is well worth another chance returned to a more galloping track, though that is more than factored into his price. Soldier In Action is probably best not judged on his latest run in the Duke of Edinburgh Stakes at Royal Ascot, short of room two furlongs out and having no chance after. He is best treated as still in form and it would be folly to ignore his claims given Mark Johnston's record in this race. He has won two of the last four renewals, and saddled the first two home when Notarised won in 2015. Johnston also has Pumblechook entered, who has won his last two starts, the latest at Newmarket by 10 lengths, but he will need a few to come out if he's to get a run.
Things couldn't be going better for Godolphin at present on the track, and Kidmenever ran a cracker to finish third in the Wolferton Handicap at Royal Ascot. He has quickly made up into a smart performer for Charlie Appleby, and you could argue that he was sent to the front too early at Ascot, but he still lost little caste in defeat, and is entitled to go well off the same mark.
Andrew Balding's Brorocco has always hinted at ability, but he has put it all together over the past 12 months. He hasn't been seen to best effect on his last two starts, all dressed up with nowhere to go in a handicap at Epsom last time, persistently denied a run and very much catching the eye. He will need at least one horse to come out to get in, but he will be high on the shortlist if getting a run, able to race off the same mark as at Epsom, and he has the scope to do better still.
Roger Varian is in blistering form at the moment and Gibbs Hill looked a handicapper to follow when bolting up at Wolverhampton in April, but he didn't build on that promise as expected when only third back on turf at York last time. He is declared to run at Kempton on Wednesday evening, however. It's fair to say Carntop hasn't always been the most straightforward, but he is potentially well handicapped on the pick of his three-year-old form, and wasn't disgraced behind Soldier In Action last time, so isn't completely out of the reckoning. One who could out-run big odds is Cosmeapolitan, who ran disappointingly at York last time, but that run came over an inadequate trip, and he possibly found the run coming too soon just 10 days after his reappearance.
Of the older brigade, Kapstadt, who is a credit to connections, makes some appeal having deservedly resumed winning ways at Newmarket last month. His consistency has been hard to knock this season, and a 5 lb rise for his latest success doesn't handicap him out of it. Likely top weight Dylan Mouth has been disappointing since returning to Britain, but he has raced over 1¾m the last twice, which stretches his stamina, and the return to this trip will be in his favour.
Big Country is undoubtedly one of the best handicapped middle-distance performers around at the moment, but he also has the option of the John Smith's Cup at York the following week. As a result, it could be worth siding with the bigger priced Brorocco, who will more than likely get in off a low weight, and also has the potential to be better than his current mark.
Win back Brorocco in the Old Newton Cup at Haydock