Imperial Aura advertised his claims for further Cheltenham Festival glory with a decisive victory in the Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday.
Stepping up to Grade 2 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
SPRINTER SACRE COMPARISON
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.
“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 1.
“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 1 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.”
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