Thyme Hill and Paisley Park belatedly lock horns for a third time in the Ryanair Stayers Hurdle at Aintree on Saturday.
The Philip Hobbs-trained Thyme Hill was clear-cut winner when the pair first met in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, before Emma Lavelle’s stable star turned the tables in an epic Long Walk at Ascot the following month.
The eagerly-awaited trilogy at the Cheltenham Festival was temporarily postponed after Thyme Hill was ruled out of the Stayers’ Hurdle, in which Paisley Park had to make do with an honourable third in his bid to regain his crown.
Hobbs is hoping Thyme Hill’s freshness could prove key on Merseyside this weekend.
He said: “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 mare 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.
“Whether coming here without the run there is a good thing I don’t know, but hopefully it will be.”
Lavelle feels Paisley Park is sharper than he was prior to the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
She said: “He’s all set and we’re all excited. He’s fresh and well and definitely a bit sharper, which he’ll need to be on that track.
“As ever it looks a very competitive race, but he’s in good order and we’re just hoping for some luck in running and we’ll see how we go.”
The aforementioned Roksana returns to three miles after finishing third in the two-and-a-half-mile Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, while Kim Bailey believes the application of blinkers could help Vinndication improve on his sixth-placed finish in the Stayers’ Hurdle.
“He ran very well at Cheltenham. He was second of the English horses, but unfortunately there were a few Irish horses in front of them,” said the Andoversford-based trainer.
“I’m going to put a pair of blinkers on him to sharpen him up a bit.”
Nicky Henderson deliberately sidestepped Cheltenham with On The Blind Side, who was last seen finishing third behind Third Wind and Lisnagar Oscar – also in this weekend’s field – in February’s Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock.
Henderson said: “He’s had a great season – he’s been very consistent, very tough and game and genuine all the way through.
“We kept him out of Cheltenham thinking Paisley Park and Thyme Hill would be taking each other on.
“Thyme Hill didn’t get to Cheltenham and he will be hard to beat, but On The Blind Side deserves a crack at a race like this.”