The National Hunt season is drawing to a close and there’s no doubt that it’s been a year to remember for fans of jump racing, with history being made time and again, including at Cheltenham and Aintree. Of course, one thing that gets the punters interested is a good old rivalry between two horses and Thyme Hill vs Paisley Park certainly provided us with just that throughout the course of the season.
Thyme Hill, trained by Philip Hobbs, and Paisley Park, trained by Emma Lavelle, clashed three times this season, and each time they lined up for starter’s orders, the punters were torn on who to back in the bet exchange – it really was that close!
Thyme Hill got the better of Paisley Park in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury back in November, beating the nine-year-old by a length-and-a-half in the three-mile outing. However, Paisley Park, who is two years older than his rival, got his own back in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, where he narrowly edged out Thyme Hill by little more than a neck.
The Stayers’ Hurdle at last month’s Cheltenham Festival was supposed to be the third outing between the pair and, unsurprisingly, they were neck-and-neck in the ante-post betting market. However, Thyme Hill was withdrawn from the race due to a minor injury before Flooring Porter landed a shock victory in the Grade 1 Prestbury Park race, as Paisley Park failed to live up his favourite status.
To the punters’ delight, Thyme Hill was declared fit for the Grand National Festival, where he lined up alongside Paisley Park in the Liverpool Hurdle. The Hobbs-trained horse set off as the 5/2 favourite with the nine-year-old hot on his heels at 3/1.
However, a return to the track following Cheltenham, which was just three weeks prior to the Merseyside meeting, proved too soon for Paisley Park and he was pulled up just before the third hurdle from home. Instead, Roksana, trained by Dan Skelton and ridden by jockey Harry Skelton, provided a challenge for Thyme Hill.
But, a mistake at the last from Roksana put her on the back foot as she raced towards home with the market leader, and in the end, Thyme Hill and jockey Tom O’Brien, who replaced the retired Richard Johnson in the saddle, prevailed by just a neck.
It was a first Grade 1 victory outside of Novices for Thyme Hill and as a result, the Hobbs-trained horse is now rated as the second-best hurdler in the country, just one pound behind Paisley Park (163). Therefore, it’ll come as no surprise that Thyme Hill will be kept over hurdles when the season kicks off again in November and Hobbs is confident of a big year, claiming the seven-year-old will have a ‘good chance’ in all of next seasons’ staying hurdles.
“While he’s doing so well in the three-mile hurdling division I think that’s where we’ll stay,” Hobbs said. “He’s schooled really well over fences but he’ll have a good chance in all those Grade 1 staying hurdles next season and so we should stick to them.
“On ratings he deserved to win but I thought he ran to his very best at Aintree. It was a great performance. What’s great with him is that he’s still a relatively young horse who could well improve next season.”
Thyme Hill is already the favourite to win the next renewal of the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next year, just ahead of defending champion Flooring Porter in the ante-post betting, and that is a great indication of what is to come from the seven-year-old.
At odds of 5/1 he is generously priced to win the Stayers’ Hurdle, and if he lands a few wins beforehand, we wouldn’t be surprised if he sets off a much shorter price. He’s certainly one to watch next year, and if current form is anything to go by, it won’t be long before he is the top-rated hurdler in Britain.
Image Credits: Neil Roy Johnson