An easy winner of the Kingwell Hurdle and then third - behind two Irish runners - in the Champion Hurdle itself last season, I'm Supposin might be one of the favourites for the championship in an ordinary year. It is a measure of the present balance of power in hurdling that the Tote still quote him at 25-1 against, but then that same Cheltenham form which gives I'm Supposin bragging rights in Britain also shows how far he has to claim the ultimate prize. Thirteen lengths, to be exact, the distance which separated him from Istabraq last time around.
It is an enormous amount of improvement for any horse to make in just 12 months. Whether I'm Supposin has any realistic chance of doing so should become clear on Saturday, when he makes his seasonal debut in the Agfa Hurdle at Sandown. The opposition should include last year's winner, Master Beveled, who is not entered in the Champion, but remains one of the most reliable benchmarks around.
Success would see the 25-1 for Cheltenham evaporate, if only because each-way backers know that even Istabraq cannot fill three places at once. In fact, the odds could well shorten before the weekend, as punters notice that, for a horse who started 6-1 second-favourite last time around, I'm Supposin seems significantly over-priced.
His long absence from the track may be a deterrent for some, but it is simply soft ground which has kept him at home. "We haven't run him because the ground has been too heavy, and if it stays dry, he will run at Sandown," Rowe said yesterday. "He'll improve whatever he does, but I couldn't be more pleased with him."
I'm Supposin was the only horse who made any real attempt to take on Istabraq at Cheltenham, and paid the price for his effort when run out of second place close home. "Form students might say that he didn't stay on up the hill because something came and nicked second off him," Rowe said, "If I had a choice, I suppose I might prefer it if the Champion Hurdle was run at [flat] Wincanton, but I'd say that he's strengthened up since last year, and you can hardly say he's done much wrong in the two Champions he's run in."
It is a fair point, I'm Supposin having finished fourth in the same race two seasons ago. Unfortunately for Rowe, if the pattern continues, his runner will fill second place on 16 March.
Saturday will be an important day too for Lord Gyllene, the 1997 Grand National winner, whose path back to Aintree leads though the Singer & Friedlander National Trial at Uttoxeter, as it did two years ago.
Such was the majesty of his performance at Liverpool - he led throughout and won by 30 lengths - that many felt he could have won with 2st more on his back. There was talk of him becoming the first since Red Rum to win more than one National, but injury intervened, and his only race since was the Tommy Whittle Chase at Haydock in December, when he was a tired fourth to Suny Bay.
"He'll be fitter this time," Steve Brookshaw, his trainer, said yesterday. "He'd got fed up with not having any racing and was working quietly, but he's a lot more enthusiastic now."
On Tuesday, Brookshaw will discover the burden his horse will carry at Aintree. "He went up 10lb after he won the National, and another 13lb for having a year off," Brookshaw said. "Now he's come back down, but the way he's handicapped, he can only go for valuable races. He'll need a couple more before the National and he's got a lot of weight on Saturday. I'll be happy if he gets placed."
NB: Mary Jane
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