Kim Bailey admits he has some thinking to do over future targets after Imperial Aura made a faultless return to action in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle.
A winner at the Cheltenham Festival in March, Imperial Aura was sent off 7-4 favourite in a strong field of six well-regarded horses.
David Bass was happy to take a lead for the first two miles, with Sam Brown and Black Op keen to get on with things.
As the field turned into the straight, Imperial Aura moved upsides, and some spectacular leaps took him to the lead – which he was not to relinquish as he powered up the hill to beat Windsor Avenue by two and a half lengths, with Sam Brown losing little in defeat in third carrying a penalty.
The victory means Imperial Aura will pick up a penalty for this month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup at Cheltenham – for which he is 6-1 joint-favourite, and would almost certainly be top weight, leaving Bailey with a big decision to make.
“He was very impressive, and I’m absolutely delighted with him,” he said.
“Hopefully he’s going to improve for the race as well, so we’ve got lots to think about.
“The weights for the Paddy Power come out on Tuesday – but he’ll get a penalty, so I have to sit and think where we’ll go.
“We ran him over three miles last year, so I have no issue at all about stepping him up to three miles.
“When I was watching it I couldn’t believe it when he came back on the bridle four out – I’m really pleased. I’m also pleased for Ian Robinson (of Imperial Racing syndicate, who own Imperial Aura) – because he’s a big part of the yard, so it’s great to have a good horse for them.”
Earlier Rose Dobbin enjoyed a nice double on the card – with Le Cheval Noir (9-1) in the Join Racing TV Now Novices’ Hurdle and Rath An Iuir (7-2) in the Gordon Richards Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase.
Both were ridden by Conor O’Farrell.