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Mullins confident Min can bounce back in Ryanair defence

Willie Mullins retains faith that Min can make a bold attempt to retain his Ryanair Chase title – despite an evident blip in his ultra-consistent record at Leopardstown last month.

Min, a neck winner of Thursday’s Grade One last year from Saint Calvados, has been a model of reliability throughout his career until pulling up after jumping poorly in the Dublin Chase.

Paul Townend was on board the yard’s odds-on winning favourite Chacun Pour Soi that day, over a trip three furlongs shorter than this, but the powerhouse yard’s number one jockey will renew his association with Min this week.

Mullins is also set to field Allaho, Festival regular Melon and outsider Tornado Flyer in a field of 14 which features a strong British challenge from Kim Bailey’s Imperial Aura and Nicky Henderson’s Mister Fisher.

Min (right) beat Saint Calvados last year
Min (right) beat Saint Calvados last year (Simon Cooper/PA)

Ireland’s multiple champion trainer prefers to focus on Min’s largely exemplary career record, rather than his recent aberration, and reports the 10-year-old in fine form at home.

“Nothing has shown up with Min (after the Dublin Chase), and I’m not really worried,” said Mullins.

“He just missed one fence down the back, and took off too soon.

“(Jockey) Patrick (Mullins) did say he felt he wasn’t galloping, and maybe the pace was too fast for him over that shorter trip and we shouldn’t have run him over the shorter trip – so once things weren’t happening we were happy to pull up.”

Allaho is among the favourites for Mullins
Allaho is among the favourites for Mullins (Niall Carson/PA)

Mullins hopes Allaho, a close third over an extended three miles in championship novice company at Cheltenham last year, will also be running over his optimum distance this time.

His only concern for his three principals is that they could conceivably compromise one another’s chances.

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“The three of them have similar tactics and methods of running – which might backfire against us a little bit,” he said.

“I always thought Allaho was going to be a three-mile, out-and-out staying chaser – the way he gallops and jumps – but his sire (No Risk At All) probably holds him back a little bit from having huge stamina, so he may just have a higher cruising speed at a shorter distance.

“He jumps very well and if you can match the two, possibly over that shorter trip it might suit him.”

Samcro (left) and Melon both ran in the Marsh last year
Samcro (left) and Melon both ran in the Marsh last year (Tim Goode/PA)

Melon has run with great credit in defeat at the last four Festivals, finishing second each time, and he too has had the Mullins camp scratching their heads over his best trip of late.

“We looked at Christmas and the race at the Dublin Racing Festival for Melon, and he doesn’t enjoy being held up,” added the trainer.

“He much preferred what he was doing at Christmas (tracking the leaders), and possibly the trip (an extended three miles) was too long (last time).”

Bailey did make an initial Gold Cup entry for Imperial Aura, a Festival handicap winner at close to this distance 12 months ago, but the Ryanair was always by far his most likely target.

The Cotswolds trainer said: “We go there with a very strong chance.

“I think it’s a very strong an competitive race, as they all are (at Cheltenham).”

Imperial Aura unshipped David Bass last time
Imperial Aura unshipped David Bass last time (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Imperial Aura uncharacteristically unseated his rider David Bass when evens favourite in a Kempton Grade Two to win for the fourth time in succession on his last appearance two months ago.

But Bass said: “He’s schooled brilliantly since Kempton, and I find his jumping is better the quicker he’s going, so the way the Ryanair should pan out will suit him.

“I tend not to be as much of a form analyst as usual (at the Festival), because I just have to concentrate on my horse.

“The Ryanair looks wide open – you could give a chance to so many, so I think it will be a cracking race. I think he’s good enough to win, and I’m excited to ride in the race.”

Mister Fisher won at Cheltenham in December
Mister Fisher won at Cheltenham in December (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Henderson has justifiably high hopes too for Mister Fisher, kept fresh since his decisive Cheltenham victory in December’s rerouted Peterborough Chase.

“He’s a lovely horse with a great temperament and a great attitude – a proper professional,” he said.

“He won the Lightning Novices’ Chase over two miles at Doncaster last year, so he’s got the pace, and he stays and jumps.

“I’d be very hopeful he’ll be competitive.”

Kalashnikov represents Amy Murphy
Kalashnikov represents Amy Murphy (Nigel French/PA)

Amy Murphy’s Peterborough runner-up Kalashnikov returns for the Ryanair too, with Joseph O’Brien’s Fakir D’oudairies – second in the 2020 Arkle – and Denise Foster’s two-time Festival winner Samcro also in the line up.

O’Brien’s confidence is boosted by Fakir D’oudairies’ Cheltenham form.

Fakir D’oudairies won over hurdles at Cheltenham
Fakir D’oudairies won over hurdles at Cheltenham (David Davies/PA)

“He’s been a fantastic horse for us and has shown a liking for Cheltenham in the past – winning a Grade Two juvenile hurdle, finishing fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and second in the Arkle Challenge Trophy,” he told Betfair.

“He looked better than ever on his latest start when second to Chacun Pour Soi in the Dublin Chase.

“We have always thought that mid-range trips such as this would suit him, and we are really looking forward to seeing what he can do over it. It looks a wide-open race, and I hope he will run a big one.”

Aura tops Kim Bailey’s strongest ever Festival team

Imperial Aura will lead what Kim Bailey believes is “undoubtedly” his strongest ever team into battle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Twenty-six years on from completing the Champion Hurdle-Cheltenham Gold Cup double with Alderbrook and Master Oats, the Cotswolds trainer is excited about his chances of adding to his tally at the showpiece event of the season.

“In that big year I had, I had a horse called Simple Arithmetic, who we thought would win the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and finished third, and a couple of horses run in handicaps,” said Bailey.

“I’ve never been one for running horses at Cheltenham unless they had a reason for going there.

“This year is undoubtedly my strongest team, (and) Imperial Aura was always going to be at the front of the house.

“We’ve been steadily building up towards this. It’s great that it’s coming to fruition – and now they’ve got to try to prove a point.”

Bailey’s Festival team were put through their paces on Wednesday morning, and the trainer was relieved to report all came through with flying colours.

He said: “We’ve had a very successful morning. We worked all the horses this morning and schooled them all in thick fog. The great thing about working horses in the fog is they always work five times better than they do normally, because none of us can see them!

Imperial Aura heads for the Ryanair Chase
Imperial Aura heads for the Ryanair Chase (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“I’m very excited about Cheltenham – having fancied runners at the Cheltenham Festival is why we do it.

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“It’s going to be very different this year – it’s going to be very sad (with owners and spectators absent because of coronavirus restrictions).

“I feel very sorry for the racecourse and incredibly sorry for the owners, because Cheltenham is Cheltenham and why so many people get involved in ownership.”

Ryanair Chase contender Imperial Aura won the now defunct novices’ handicap chase at last year’s meeting and was impressive in winning his first two starts of the current campaign at Carlisle and Ascot.

The eight-year-old then unseated David Bass on his latest outing at Kempton, but Bailey is not too worried about that.

He added: “We’ve done extensive schooling with him. He’s a good jumper, and I’m convinced something took his eye off the fence. I’m very thankful it happened there – and hopefully it won’t happen at Cheltenham.

“He worked very well this morning, and schooled very well.

“I’m delighted with the way the horse is progressing. We didn’t go for the Ascot Chase the other day, and we’re hopefully going to Cheltenham as a fresh horse.”

While Imperial Aura was always expected to return to Cheltenham with leading claims, Bailey admits the progression of First Flow into a genuine contender for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase has taken him by surprise.

David Bass aboard First Flow at Ascot
David Bass aboard First Flow at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Unbeaten in his last six races, the son of Primary earned his shot at the two-mile chasing championship with a thoroughly impressive Grade One success in the Clarence House at Ascot on his latest appearance.

“When I made the entry (for the Champion Chase) it was a little bit of a fairytale entry really, but what he achieved at Ascot was phenomenal – it was as good a race as I’ve ever watched in my life, I think,” said Bailey.

“I really enjoyed the fact that he did what he did, and it was the way he did it on ground that we weren’t necessarily expecting him to be that good on.

“It launched us very quickly to a place where we have to go for the Champion Chase – whether we like it or not. He became a horse that’s certainly good enough (to run).

“We’re going forward in a new dimension and in a place where none of us knew we’d be. We’re going to take it on with both hands and with both feet firmly on the ground.”

Bailey would dearly love to add a Champion Chase victory to his CV, adding: “I’ve never had a fancied runner in it – I’ve only had one runner in the race before, and that was a situation where the owners insisted on running him.

“I’ve always loved the race and loved watching it. I go back to the days of Viking Flagship when there was three horses jumping the last upsides in front.

“What a moment it would be to have the horse that passes the post in front in a race like that.”

Bailey plans to make a late call on whether to allow Vinndication to join stablemate Younevercall in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, or shoot for glory in the Gold Cup.

Vinndication has not been seen in competitive action since unseating his rider in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in November.

Plans are fluid for Vinndication
Plans are fluid for Vinndication (Tim Goode/PA)

“If we were to run Vinndication in the Stayers’, David Bass would ride – so therefore when we were working the horses this morning, it was important Ciaran Gethings had the chance to sit on Younevercall (with a view to riding at Cheltenham),” said Bailey

“I’m sitting on the fence at this moment in time with Vinndication. It will probably be the end of next week before we make a decision – as close as possible (to the meeting).

“He’s been schooling over fences and hurdles, and I really want to see where I am.

“My biggest problem with him is the last time he ran was at Newbury, and he unseated. Until he parted company with his jockey, he was jumping brilliantly and I need to have it in my own mind that he can do that again (to run in the Gold Cup).

“It’s a difficult one for everybody. I don’t want to say one way or t’other, and then change my mind.”

Kim Bailey weighing up options for Imperial Aura

Ryanair Chase hopeful Imperial Aura is likely to head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without another run following his early departure at Kempton.

However, trainer Kim Bailey has yet to emphatically rule out the possibility of the Ascot Chase for his still inexperienced yet highly-promising chaser.

Imperial Aura remains near the top of the ante-post market for the Ryanair Chase, behind title-holder Min – despite parting company with jockey David Bass when he made an uncharacteristic error at the second fence on Saturday.

Bailey will scour the fixture list for any alternative option which has previously eluded him, but feels there is not enough time between Ascot on February 20 and the Ryanair on March 18.

“I don’t think so,” he said.

“I haven’t really looked (again yet), because I want to be sure how the horse comes out of it – but from what I saw beforehand, there were only two races he could possibly run in.

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“The reason why we went for that race yesterday was it gave him a longer break to Cheltenham.”

Reflecting on the early departure, his trainer said: “It’s happened – you can come up with all sorts of theories as to why.

“But at the end of it, he parted company with his jockey! It was very unfortunate, not something we expected to happen.”

He was beaten into second last year on his only attempt beyond three miles, and has since excelled over shorter, but has been given an entry in the Gold Cup.

Two For Gold (right) en route to victory at Warwick
Two For Gold (right) en route to victory at Warwick (Steven Paston/PA)

Bailey said: “Ian Robinson (of ownership syndicate Imperial Racing) was the one who wished for the horse to be entered (in the Gold Cup) – which is absolutely fair enough.

“It’s to cover all options, in case things happen – you’ve got to do that.”

Bailey’s Two For Gold at least completed the course at Kempton but had to settle for a hard-earned two-length third in a competitive handicap chase.

He too is fine after his exertions, and is also exercising his trainer’s thought processes over where to run next – with more game time necessary to help him learn to jump more fluently at speed.

Kim Bailey (middle) is steering a course towards spring targets for his string
Kim Bailey (middle) is steering a course towards spring targets for his string (PA)

“He gets three miles – I wasn’t terribly sure he’d get the distance in the Ladbroke,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“Yesterday, and the Ladbroke, they were fast-run races. He’s a horse that tootled round in his novices last year, very much in his own control. The Ladbroke, they broke the track record, and he struggled to jump off that pace.

“Yesterday, he was harassed from the word go, never got into a rhythm to be able to jump (well) – he did remarkably well to finish third, quite honestly, and it shows what a nice horse he is.

“Going forward there are plenty of races to be won with him.

“I need to see how he comes out of the race. It took him a while to get over Newbury. He’s sound and fine this morning, but he’d want a bit of time between his races.”

Bailey hoping Aura can rise to Kempton test

Kim Bailey has his fingers crossed that Imperial Aura continues his rapid progression in the Ladbrokes Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton on Saturday.

Winner of a handicap at the Cheltenham Festival last March, he reappeared with a smooth success at Carlisle and handled the step up in class with aplomb to win a Grade Two at Ascot last time out.

He carries a penalty for that success and is among the leading British-trained contenders for the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

“This race has been the plan for some time now,” said Bailey.

“We’ve got our fingers crossed that he keeps going in the right direction.

“Whether two and a half miles is sharp enough for him trip-wise around Kempton, we’re not going to find out until the race!

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“He hasn’t put a foot wrong to date this season, but the form of his last race at Ascot doesn’t look very strong now – it’s difficult to assess really.”

Paul Nicholls is taking on the favourite with Master Tommytucker, who has been a reformed character this season.

Master Tommytucker has jumped much better this season
Master Tommytucker has jumped much better this season (Mike Egerton/PA)

His jumping has let him down in the past, but he has put in four clear rounds this season and made a valiant attempt off top weight at Cheltenham last time out.

“His jumping has improved a lot since he was last at Kempton and this looks a nice race for him with only a handful of runners,” Nicholls told Betfair.

“I thought he ran all right for a long way off top weight and learned plenty in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham, which was a seriously competitive race.

“I am expecting a big run from Master Tommytucker, with Imperial Aura the one to beat.”

Nigel Twiston-Davies is hoping the freshness has been knocked out of Riders Onthe Storm after he ran no race in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.

He fell in last season’s Ryanair when still holding every chance, having won a Grade One at Ascot prior to that.

“Riders Onthe Storm is in really good form. He was a bit of a lunatic on his first time as he was very fresh, but he is more settled now. We are looking forward to this,” said Twiston-Davies.

“There are very few races a horse of his class can go for, but going back up to two and a half miles is plus for him. I’d imagine we will take this in en route to the Ascot Chase then the Ryanair.”

Clondaw Castle won a decent race at Newbury this season
Clondaw Castle won a decent race at Newbury this season (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

While Tom George’s Clondaw Castle is the outsider of the four runners, he has put up three good efforts this season and was slightly unlucky behind Mister Fisher last time out.

He had earlier won a good handicap at Newbury and finished second in the Old Roan at Aintree.

“Clondaw Castle definitely got hampered at the wrong moment last time and the ground would have been soft enough for him that day at Cheltenham, so we just hope they don’t get too much rain or snow,” said George.

“He’s definitely progressing, we’ve seen an improvement in him at home as well, so I think he’s heading in the right direction.”

Bailey ready to take plunge as Younevercall heads for Cleeve

Kim Bailey will send Younevercall back left-handed for the first time in almost five years, in next month’s galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Younevercall led over the last in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle on Saturday, proving himself up to competing at the highest level.

The lightly-raced nine-year-old has not raced left-handed since hanging badly right throughout at Doncaster in February 2016.

“I was absolutely over the moon with him,” said Bailey.

“I always said we wouldn’t run him left-handed, but we’re going to have to run him in the Cleeve Hurdle and find out whether he can go that way.

“If we didn’t run in the Cleeve (on January 30) to see we’d have to wait for Sandown or Punchestown (in the spring) – there’s not much else, and they fall too close together really.

“He proved he was up to that level and was only beaten seven lengths, so it was a phenomenal performance when you consider all the problems he’s had.

Imperial Aura was imperious at Ascot last time out
Imperial Aura was imperious at Ascot last time out (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“It’s a shame, it’s often the case the good horses have injuries, how good would he have been? The owners have been very patient with him – he’s been great for them, and they got a great thrill on Saturday.”

Bailey’s stable star Imperial Aura, a Grade Two winner last time out, will head to Kempton on January 9.

“Imperial Aura will go to Kempton next for the Silviniaco Conti Chase,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

Bailey shuts down King George clamour for Imperial Aura

Kim Bailey has ruled out supplementing impressive Ascot winner Imperial Aura for the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

A winner at the Cheltenham Festival in a handicap in March, Imperial Aura handled the step into Grade Two company with aplomb, beating Itchy Feet by five lengths last weekend.

Already favourite for the Ryanair Chase in March, there was talk in some quarters that Bailey might be tempted to roll the dice over three miles – but that is not on the current agenda.

Kempton’s Silviniaco Conti Chase in January, won by Frodon last season, or the Ascot Chase in February instead appear to be his potential stepping stones to Cheltenham.

“His season’s target is the Ryanair, and that’s what he’ll be geared up to,” said Bailey.

“He’ll either run at Kempton or Ascot next, but the King George is not part of that equation.”

Bass confident Imperial Aura can be Grade One star

Finding a horse able to compete at the highest level can be a challenge, but David Bass believes he has struck gold with Imperial Aura judging by his victory in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot.

Having followed up last season’s Cheltenham Festival triumph in a Listed event at Carlisle on his return, the Kim Bailey-trained seven-year-old took another step forwards with a dominant display in the Grade Two, which he claimed by five lengths.

With the ceiling of Imperial Aura’s ability yet to be established, Bass, who rode dual Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre, among others, on the gallops during his time with Nicky Henderson, expects the gelding to take a step up to Grade One company in his stride.

Bass said: “It’s hard to compare any horse with Sprinter Sacre, and even some of the other horses I was lucky enough to sit on at home at Nicky’s, but Sprinter was something else.

“Take nothing away from this horse though, as I do think he can compete at the top level. I think the most exciting thing is you don’t know how much he can improve.

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“What I’ve felt in his two runs this season, I’m confident he can compete at the top level and do us proud and win a Grade One.

“He is probably one of the most exciting horses I have got to look forward to.”

On official ratings, Imperial Aura still had work to do with two of his four Ascot rivals if he was to continue his progression, although Bass was confident going into the two-mile-five-furlong contest that he would be able to cope with such demands.

Bass added: “We came into it having the utmost respect for all the other horses in the race, as there were Grade One winners in there that had strong form. We were confident our horse was in good form. We knew that our big asset was his jumping.

“The way he jumped down the back the second time was brilliant. That is going to stand him in good stead when competing at the top level.

“I felt he had improved at home from Carlisle. I was confident he was going to run a big race and take a lot of beating today. He was having a good look around in front and I think there is more improvement to come from him.”

Quite often there are signs from an early age as to whether a horse has potential star quality, and Bass feels Imperial Aura is no different.

He added: “He was a good bumper horse and he went to Carlisle for his first hurdle race. I remember then thinking ‘this is a good horse’. That season he was plagued with sore shins. We’ve given him time to mature and get over that, and I think it is paying off now.

All roads will now lead to a Festival return in March for Imperial Aura, with an outing in the Ryanair Chase the intended target, but given the way he finished at Ascot, Bass hopes he could progress even further once stepped back up in trip.

Bass added: “I think in time he will get three miles, but for now I agree with Kim and we have to stay at this trip. If that means we end up in the Ryanair, so be it.

“Imperial Commander won a Ryanair and then a Gold Cup in the same colours. They are a great bunch of owners who have another serious horse on their hands.”

Imperial rule for Kim Bailey ace at Ascot

Imperial Aura advertised his claims for further Cheltenham Festival glory with a decisive victory in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot.

Stepping up to Grade Two company from Listed level, Kim Bailey’s charge – a winner at the showpiece meeting in March last year – put in an almost foot-perfect round of jumping to cruise home by five lengths at the 13-8 favourite.

Bryony Frost was eager to set the gallop aboard Black Corton in the two-mile-five-furlong contest – but David Bass had Imperial Aura on their heels and had just edged in front before Frost was unseated with eight fences still to jump.

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While Real Steel briefly hit the front at one stage, Imperial Aura always looked to be in control and barring a slightly haphazard leap at the penultimate obstacle, Bailey’s runner never looked likely to be beaten.

Itchy Feet looked under pressure with three to jump, but stayed on to snatch second, with Real Steel a further two and a half lengths back in third.

The Imperial Racing-owned winner Aura is now as low as 7-1 with Paddy Power for the Ryanair Chase at the Festival in March, with Coral going 8-1.

Bailey said: “I was really pleased with the horse and what a fantastic ride. He took the race to them, and he had to. We knew he would stay and he is just a very progressive horse. He had improved at home, we knew that.

“You have to have a go and today was the right race. I’m really pleased he is going forwards and the Ryanair is now where we head, I suppose.

Imperial Aura produced some magnificent leaps on his way to victory at Ascot
Imperial Aura produced some magnificent leaps on his way to victory at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“His jumping as always (is what really pleased me). Those downhill fences were electric to watch. He fired them in and by taking them on it made it so much better from his point of view, as you look at it and at one stage Harry Cobden was sitting hard-held beside him (on Real Steel).

“He kept on pushing and pushing and the wheels started to fall off everybody else.”

He went on: “I don’t know where we go (next). He will probably have one run between now and Cheltenham. I thought we would get today done with and from the result of today we knew where we were going. He was either a Ryanair horse or we were going for something completely different.

“I’m not going to go that far that quickly (and try turn him into a Gold Cup horse), but he will certainly get further. He ran over three miles last season and Pym beat him, but the two were racing for a long time and he showed his inexperience.

“This is the most progressive horse I’ve had for a long time – he has never stopped improving and that’s the important thing.

“It is lovely to have horses good enough to be here, but without owners we are not here and it is important they get the credit they deserve.”

Imperial rule could be the order of the day this weekend

Saturday could provide an afternoon to savour for members of Imperial Racing – with Imperial Aura heading to Ascot and Imperial Alcazar well fancied at Haydock.

No stranger to big-race success – indeed Imperial Commander won the arguably biggest of them all, the Gold Cup, at Cheltenham in 2010 – this weekend has the potential to potentially rank with the syndicate’s best days.

Imperial Aura, trained by Kim Bailey, is already a Cheltenham Festival winner and looked better than ever in the Colin Parker Memorial at Carlisle on his return. He runs in a fascinating Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase, while Imperial Alcazar is among the favourites for the Betfair Exchange Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle.

“With Imperial Aura we are in a position where we are thinking of the Ryanair, and I think we’ve every right to,” said Ian Robinson of Imperial Racing.

“He was very impressive at Carlisle, particularly on that ground as the placed horses would have liked it more.”

Imperial Aura only faces three rivals, but all have shown top-class form.

“It’s an interesting race, we know what Black Corton is, he never runs a bad race, Real Steel was the unheralded horse from the Gold Cup, beaten just over seven lengths and last off the bridle. He’s gone from one top trainer to another. Itchy Feet has probably got development in him as well,” said Robinson.

Imperial Aura and jockey David Bass celebrate at Cheltenham
Imperial Aura and jockey David Bass celebrate at Cheltenham (Simon Cooper/PA)

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“It probably won’t be a blistering pace with only four runners, but our horse does nothing but jump and he’s got an engine.

“We think he does stay three miles, but have decided to stick down the two-four/two-five route this season and he’ll either enhance his Ryanair credentials or he won’t. We’ll know more at 3pm on Saturday.”

Earlier in the season Imperial Aura was among the market leaders for last weekend’s Paddy Power Gold Cup – a race Imperial Commander won for the syndicate.

“Before the Paddy Power people were trying to draw comparisons with Imperial Commander, but he only had to run off 139 – this lad was on 157,” said Robinson.

“The Colin Parker was the right race for him and it’s also close to my heart as I lived in Carlisle for 27 years. In my youth I remember the likes of Ferdy Murphy and Lenny Lungo sending some really nice horses and in fact Nigel Twiston-Davies (Imperial Commander’s trainer), that was where I first spotted him when he came up.

“I didn’t want to go in the Paddy Power off 157 first time out and when it rained on Saturday it made it quite nice to be able to sit back and watch and not wonder what might have been.

“It’s a very competitive race and they are the races you want to be involved in.”

Imperial Alcazar winning at Leicester last season
Imperial Alcazar winning at Leicester last season (David Davies/PA)

At Haydock, the Fergal O’Brien-trained Imperial Alcazar looks to build on a promising season in novice hurdles.

“It’s turned into a big day I suppose,” continued Robinson.

“With Imperial Alcazar we were torn between going over fences or not, or going for this. He wants this trip, he’ll like the course and he won’t mind what the ground is.

“Paddy Brennan is very enthusiastic about the way he’s come out of the summer, but this has really turned into a fascinating race – at least I’d see it like that if we didn’t have a runner! It’s red-hot.

“Who knows what Ronan McNally has left in his locker with The Jam Man, you’ve a horse in Main Fact who has won eight in a row, there are a couple of graded horses at the top (Kalashnikov and Wholestone), Relegate won a Champion Bumper and the winner of the Pitmen’s Derby (Who Dares Wins) as well. And don’t forget Olly Murphy’s horse (Collooney). There’s a lot with chances.

“We know we’ll stay, travel and hopefully he’ll be there at the finish. We certainly think he’s better than a 140-rated horse. Whether he has enough in the tank to beat a field of that type, I don’t know.

“He’s go to step up but we have to make the leap one day, if he’s as good as we think he is this is the right race for him.

Imperial Alcazar was not far behind the smart Protektorat last season
Imperial Alcazar was not far behind the smart Protektorat last season (David Davies/PA)

“If we’d gone chasing he’d be going without any real experience behind him, he’s still quite backward in many ways so this race will do him good whatever happens.”

Unfortunately for Robinson and every other syndicate, the joy of owning a horse at present has been curtailed somewhat due to the pandemic and while he could have gone to one of the meetings, he has given the opportunity to others.

“I’m not going to either, we’re down to two badges a runner and having to run a ballot system. I just think it’s right I step out of the ballot to give everyone a chance so we have four lucky attendees,” he said.

Bailey rules Imperial Aura out of Paddy Power

Kim Bailey has ruled Imperial Aura out of both the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the Ladbrokes Trophy.

Imperial Aura was a leading fancy for the big handicap at Cheltenham after his emphatic win at in the Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase at Carlisle on Sunday – but Bailey feels next week’s race will come too soon.

The Gloucestershire trainer has announced he will not run Imperial Aura in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury on November 28 either. He does, however, have a couple of races in mind for the exciting seven-year-old – who ended the last campaign with victory in the novices’ handicap chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Bailey wrote on his website: “The weights for the Ladbroke Chase came out yesterday. We have three entries – Imperial Aura, who will not run, while Vinndication and Two For Gold will remain in the race for the foreseeable future so that we can asses how they have come out of the respective races last weekend.

“Imperial Aura will not be running in the Paddy Power at Cheltenham next weekend. It is too soon after his stunning win last Sunday at Carlisle.

“There are other races for him that might suit – Ascot on the 21st of November, the Chanelle Pharma Chase, and then there is the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon on December 6.”

Imperial Aura is impressive in Colin Parker Memorial

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.

Carlisle return in offing for Imperial Aura

Kim Bailey has earmarked next month’s Colin Parker Memorial Intermediate Chase as the first potential target for Cheltenham Festival winner Imperial Aura.

The Andoversford trainer may choose the two-and-a-half-mile prize on November 1 as his starting point for the lightly-raced seven-year-old’s season.

In a productive first campaign over fences, the Kalanisi gelding rounded off with victory at the Festival in the Listed Northern Trust Company Novices’ Handicap Chase.

Bailey said: “Imperial Aura has come back from Ireland and he looks very well.

“He will possibly go to Carlisle for the intermediate chase there next month. He will have an entry in the BetVictor (Gold Cup, at Cheltenham), and we will see where we go from there.

“It won’t be an easy season for him, but I certainly feel at home he is a stronger horse.

“He didn’t have any issues with his shins last season – which he has done before – but the owners were patient, and we backed off, allowing him to do what he has done.

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Vinndication could be stepped back up in class on his return, with Bailey looking to the Grade Two bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.

He said: “He will probably go for the race he didn’t go for last year, which was the Charlie Hall – because the race he won last year on the same day at Ascot (Sodexo Gold Cup), he will probably be a bit high in the weights for.

“I was disappointed he got beat at in the Ultima at Cheltenham. We were due to take him to Newbury two weeks before, but they cancelled it – which just tipped the scales away from us.

“I hope this is his year – he has to improve another 10lb to be a Grade One horse, but it would be nice to think he could be.”

Two For Gold (right) is likely to start back in handicap company (Steven Paston/PA)
Two For Gold (right) is likely to start back in handicap company (Steven Paston/PA)

Two For Gold claimed Grade Two honours on his penultimate start last season in the Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick. However, he could revert to handicap company on his return – with Bailey considering a number of options.

He said: “He will either go to Chepstow next weekend or Market Rasen a few days later – where there is a new extended two-mile-five £36,000 handicap chase.

“He is a horse that, all being well, will be entered in the BetVictor Gold Cup as well. He has won over three miles, but he has got bags of speed.

“We were planning to go to Cheltenham, but he had a hard race at Ascot on bottomless ground in the Reynoldstown. So we left him alone – and that would have been one race too many.”

Newtide was another to strike at Grade Two level over fences last season, in the Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby, and Bailey believes he could be tailor-made for this year’s Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow.

He added: “He has had a wind operation since the end of last season and showed he needed that when his wind cut out on him in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham.

“He likes soft ground and he could be a Welsh Grand National-type horse. It will be a hard season for him, because he is high in the handicap for what he won, two novice chases, and the second of them at Wetherby was a bit of a messy race.”

The Gold Cup-winning trainer expects First Flow to continue his progression over fences when getting his ground conditions, having rattled up a hat-trick at the end of the season.

He said: “First Flow is a good horse, but he is so reliant on heavy ground. He ran some cracking races at Ascot and Sandown, where I never thought he was a good enough jumper to go round. His schooling was good towards the end of the season.

“If he gets his ground this season he will be a contender for the good races over two miles.

“He is a bit like (1995 Gold Cup winner) Master Oats. They were not bred to be speed machines – but they just try and jump.”