Richard Johnson and Thyme Hill face acid test in Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury against Paisley Park and co

RICHARD Johnson hopes rising star Thyme Hill can go the Distance at Newbury on Friday.

The four-time champion jockey gets the leg up on the Grade 1 winner in a mouthwatering renewal of the Long Distance Hurdle.

The six-year-old is set to face off against Paisley Park and Lisnagar Oscar – the last two winners of the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Philip Hobbs’ exciting prospect bagged the Challow Hurdle last December before finishing a fine fourth in a rough-and-tumble Albert Bartlett at jumps HQ.

But Johnson is under no illusions about the size of the challenge at Newbury and reckons that Friday’s race could be a crunch moment in the career of Thyme Hill.

He said: “He is in good form at home, Philip couldn’t be more pleased with him. 

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“It’s his first run out of novice company and it’s a very hot race, but we will get a better idea of where we stand with him afterwards. 

"We are going up against Paisley Park, Lisnagar Oscar and McFabulous who is improving, so it is a very good test for him.

“He’s a Grade 1 winner and ran well at Cheltenham last year, so there are no easy races when you’re at this level.”

And Thyme Hill, a 6-1 shot for the Long Distance Hurdle with the sponsors Ladbrokes, could yet go novice chasing this winter if things don’t go to plan over the smaller obstacles.

Johnson revealed: “He could go novice chasing, but that would be up to Philip and his owners. 

“He has only had four runs over hurdles and it’s a pretty open division, but we will know a lot more after Friday.

“He’s a lovely horse, he’s been a star the last couple of years and there is lots to look forward to.”

Thyme Hill is a 12-1 shot with Paddy Power for the Stayers’ Hurdle in March, while the same firm make him a 20-1 shot for the RSA Chase.

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