Thyme Hill laid a marker down for the new season when holding off Paisley Park in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
Trained by Philip Hobbs, Thyme Hill was a Grade One winner as a novice last term and was a slightly unlucky loser when meeting trouble in running in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham in March.
None of the 10 contenders at Newbury looked keen to make the running, with the field hanging back as the tapes went up.
Eventually Honest Vic was ridden into an early lead and he held the advantage until Vision Des Flos went from last to first under Robbie Power as the field embarked on the second circuit.
When he was reeled in as they entered the straight, there were plenty in with chances as Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar, McFabulous, Summerville Boy and the first two home were all still travelling well.
But they dropped away one by one, with McFabulous the last off the bridle but appearing to not quite get home as Thyme Hill and Paisley Park fought out a thrilling finish.
Richard Johnson pushed Thyme Hill (7-2) a length and a half clear of Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park at line, with the runner-up conceding 3lb and putting his Cheltenham disappointment behind him with a fine effort.
Thyme Hill is now as low as 6-1 with Betfair for the Stayer’s Hurdle, with Paisley Park a 5-1 chance.