Thyme Hill landed the first blow in what could prove to be a season-long rivalry here on Friday as he held the late charge of Paisley Park, the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle winner, by one-and-a-half lengths in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle with McFabulous, the favourite, only third. All three are likely to be aimed at the Stayers’ Hurdle in March, while the Long Walk Hurdle next month and the Cleeve Hurdle in January could also bring two or more of Friday’s protagonists together on the road to the Festival.

a group of people riding on the back of a horse: Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

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Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

a group of people riding on the back of a horse: Thyme Hill jumps the final flight at Newbury in spectacular style.

© Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock
Thyme Hill jumps the final flight at Newbury in spectacular style.

It took some time for the field to even break into a canter, and the race was more a sprint up the straight than a test of stamina. Thyme Hill, though, was a comfortable winner on the day and Philip Hobbs confirmed afterwards that the six-year-old is the best long-distance hurdling prospect he has trained. “I’ve never had a horse that was even likely for the Stayers’ Hurdle,” Hobbs said. “There is still room for improvement, he would have been pretty fit today but the run would put him right as well.”

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Thyme Hill is likely to have one run before the Festival in either the Long Walk at Ascot or the Cleeve at Cheltenham, and both races are now on the schedule for Paisley Park, who was back to something like his best here having finished only seventh when suffering an irregular heartbeat in the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle.

“Fair play to the winner, he’s the new kid on the block,” Aidan Coleman, Paisley Park’s jockey, said. “But from where we left off from Cheltenham in March, we have come an awful long way, bearing in mind he couldn’t raise a gallop and we all know why.

“He has gone around today, travelled with loads of enthusiasm and jumped well. It turned into a sprint, but it was the same for all of them, so we are not making any excuses on that front. Without winning, I couldn’t be happier.”

Six of the last nine winners of the card’s Grade Two novice chase have subsequently won at Grade One level over fences, a list which includes Bobs Worth, Coneygree, Clan Des Obeaux and Champ. Only three went to post for the latest renewal, but Caribean Boy looked up-to-scratch for the contest as he beat odds-on favourite Fiddlerontheroof by four lengths.

“I think the Ryanair [Chase] is the obvious race,” Nicky Henderson, Caribean Boy’s trainer, said. “Two-and-a-half [miles] is perfect for him.”

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