Judging by the media and social media stories surrounding Thyme Hill, Ruby Walsh is particularly interested in what the horse has to offer at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.
Although the former jockey hasn’t pinned his colours to the gelding’s mast – he's not done it for any of the Stayers’ Hurdle runners – he did mention the fact that Thyme Hill appears to be being ignored by pundits and punters.
Does the Philip Hobbs’ trained mount have what it takes to claim a Festival winner in March? “Yes” seems to be the answer.
Previous Hurdling & Staying Class
It's not as if Walsh has said something and the bookies have jumped. Bookmakers are savvy, and the Stayers’ Hurdle betting reflects this since Thyme Hill is considered the joint-second favourite at 5/1. A recommendation from a world-class rider carries weight, but not as much weight as hurdling and staying experience.
Thyme Hill’s record highlights he has plenty of both with five wins and two second-place finishes in nine runs. That means the horse has failed to cross the post in the top two in two races over hurdles, which is impressive. Even better, an occasion where Thyme Hill showed his class was during the 2021 Grand National Festival.
In that event, he took on a field of classy stayers to claim Aintree’s version of the race, beating Roksana by a neck. Throw in placing second behind Champ in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle in December, and Thyme Hill has obvious potential.
Another tick in the box next to Thyme Hill’s name is the fact that his competitors appear to be dropping off the edge of a cliff from a form perspective.
Champ might have won the Long Walk Hurdle last December, but he went on to lose to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle in January. That’s not good form for the 6/1 fourth-favourite.
Listen to that ROAR! 🏆🏆🏆— CheltenhamRacecourse (@CheltenhamRaces) January 29, 2022
A champion returns to his throne, Paisley Park gets his THIRD Cleeve Hurdle pic.twitter.com/p9kJ1XRRso
There are issues further up the betting market, too, especially with Klassical Dream. Klassical Dream was billed as the clear victor a couple of weeks ago, yet the hype came crashing down once Royal Kahala dismantled him in the Galmoy Hurdle by 11 lengths. Flooring Porter, meanwhile, tasted defeat to Klassical Dream, further raising question marks about his ability.
In fact, Flooring Porter hasn’t won a race for almost 12 months. The last time he did was at this very event at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. Judging by that, he might have peaked a year ago. There are lots of maybes, but it’s not hard to see why Walsh believes Thyme Hill has a chance.
Never underestimate the impact of a rest. Too many trainers run their horses into the ground by entering them into events weeks after a gruelling test. As a result, they struggle to find the form of old, especially as they age.
Champ is an excellent example. At 10-years-old, there’s an argument that suggests Nicky Henderson’s gelding has too many miles in his legs.
The Cleeve result is the case in point because the horse had around six weeks to recover and wasn’t his usual self, eventually losing to Paisley Park after giving his opponent a 15-length headstart.
On the flip side, Thyme Hill’s run out in mid-December could be exactly what he required before taking a winter break. He won’t run again until March, which is plenty of time to gear up for a crack at Cheltenham glory.
Whether he wins or loses, several encouraging plus points will attract the attention of punters. If they’re good enough for Ruby Walsh, they’re good enough for everyone else!