ONE of the most popular horses in training, Thyme Hill, left it late to land the Grade One Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree less than a month after missing the Cheltenham Festival.
Philip Hobbs was disappointed that his seven-year-old could not line up against the Aidan Coleman-ridden Paisley Park in a much-anticipated rematch at The Festival just over three weeks ago. But that turned to joy at Liverpool as Thyme Hill and Irish jockey Tom O’Brien snatched victory from Dan and Harry Skelton’s game mare Roksana by a neck.
The win came just a week after regular pilot Richard Johnson retired from the saddle and Hobbs said: “It’s fantastic and I’m really delighted. We are all chuffed but for Tom O’Brien who has taken over from Johnson it’s a great start.
“I hope we can find a few more like him but there aren’t too many around. He was unbeaten last season up until then. He was badly hampered twice, and you would have to say he would have won the Albert Bartlett last year but for that, anyway, this result was much better.”
Hobbs went on to explain why Thyme Hill missed out on a trip to The Festival last month. He said: “He pulled a muscle just on the right-hand side behind the saddle and it wasn’t bad, but it was very tricky as to how much time he would need off before we could start working him again.
“There was only a certain amount of time available in any case but thanks to the physio, vets and everything else we got him here anyway. I must admit all the way up the run-in I didn’t think we were going to quite get there”.
As for his plans for the closing stages of the season:
“I should think he is finished for the season, but the entry closed this week for the Stayers’ Hurdle in Punchestown. We didn’t enter as it was €1,200 and I thought ‘why waste that when he is not going to?’”
Winning jockey Tom O’Brien told ITV Racing: “I’m delighted to be able to repay with a win on this lovely horse for the Philip Hobbs team. He didn’t make Cheltenham, but Johnson White and all the team at the Hobbs’s got him right for today.
He is just uncomplicated. When I chatted to Richard about him, he said there’s not a lot you can say other than he’s uncomplicated so ride a simple race. He has a heart of gold.”
Speaking to the media later, O’Brien added: “He’s a fantastic horse — he’s uncomplicated. He unfortunately missed Cheltenham, but Philip Hobbs’s team and Johnson White got him back right for today. He was brilliant today and tough after the last. I know he’s a battler, just from watching him — I haven’t ridden many as good as him, and he won’t lie down easy, anyway.
“I schooled him over fences this time last year and he was very good, so he definitely has the option of going over fences next season.” A disappointment was Paisley Park, winner the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and conqueror of Thyme Hill earlier this season in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
His trainer Emma Lavelle said: “He just didn’t travel. I don’t what happened. We will get him back home and get him checked out. We will check his heart and scope him.
“Maybe he has had a very hard race at Cheltenham and was just a bit flat there? He has walked off OK there and looks all right, so touch wood.”
Innishannon native and top-notch jockey Aidan Coleman, rider of Paisley Park, added: “I don’t know what happened, but we’ve seen a few horses who went to Cheltenham not really turn up here. All the signs were right at home and the first mile was ok.”
Lavelle has reported Paisley Park to be “absolutely fine” after being pulled up at last week’s Grand National Festival at Aintree.
The nine-year-old has been in fine heart this campaign since suffering an irregular heartbeat at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, roaring to a Grade One success in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.
He has since finished a creditable third in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival but struggled to get into proceedings at Aintree and was pulled up by Aidan Coleman before the third last flight from home.