Trainer Philip Hobbs has announced that his staying hurdler Thyme Hill is back to his best ahead of the Aintree Grand National meeting after he has recovered from a slight setback that ruled him out of the Grade One Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham.
The seven year old gelding was remarkable last season winning three of his four contests in great style and showing a clear staying ability.
He started his life over hurdles at Chepstow in the Grade Two Persian War Novices Hurdle and seeing off some smart youngsters that have since gone on to frank that form including Grade One winner Fiddlerontheroof.
The gelding then went to Cheltenham in the Grade Two Ballymore Novices Hurdle and again put in a strong winning run to enhance his credentials in this division.
He was destined for big things off the back of his third in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham last season and fulfilled his potential for the term when landing the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
He was then sent back to Cheltenham in March for the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle and although suffering his first defeat over hurdles, he was a narrow fourth in a very hot Grade One.
The form of that race has worked out with the first, second and third since coming out and winning on their seasonal debuts.
Coming out of novice company on seasonal debut many were apprehensive as to how Thyme Hill would handle taking seasoned staying horses on first time out, but he was superb landing the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
The gelding saw off strong challenges from McFabulous and Paisley Park that day and he was up against the latter again on Saturday in his bid for his second Grade One win of his career.
However, although looking the likely winner with 50 yards to go he was nabbed on the line by the likeable stayer and he will meet him again at Aintree next week in the decider.
Hobbs said: “The Liverpool Hurdle is still very much the plan for Thyme Hill. He pulled a muscle on his right-hand side behind the saddle, which meant he had to miss Cheltenham.
“He had a fairly easy week after that, but we have had plenty of time to build him back up and get him ready for Aintree.
“His last run in the Long Walk was good. It was a top-end race, as you would expect. Obviously he was just beaten by Paisley Park, who has run well in the Stayers’ Hurdle since, and he beat the nice filly of Dan Skelton’s (Roksana).
“This was not the original plan (coming straight here), and I definitely think on his best form he would have been up there at Cheltenham.
“It rather depends what turns up at Aintree – so whether coming here without the run there is a good thing, I don’t know, but hopefully it will be.”