IT TAKES a special horse to impress now retired 20-time champion Jump jockey Sir A P McCoy but Iroko achieved exactly that when receiving plenty of praise from the legendary rider after making a winning debut over fences at Warwick.
After rising through the ranks to win the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival before finishing third on his Grade One debut in the Winners Wear Cavani Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, expectations were high for the five-year-old on his chasing bow.
And the Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero-trained Cokoriko gelding did not disappoint with a near flawless round of jumping in the feature Stan Mellor Memorial Novices’ Chase under an ultra-confident Jonjo O’Neill Jr.
Jumping smartly throughout the two and a half mile test the 11-10 Favourite breezed up onto the shoulders of chief market rival Golden Son, who was bidding to give trainer Paul Nicholls back-to-back wins in the race after claiming it last year with Stage Star, on the run to the second last.
Barely needing to get out of second gear Iroko went past Golden Son with minimum fuss before securing victory by a comfortable three and a quarter lengths.
McCoy said: “He was good and sure footed. It was a good place to start off as it takes a bit of jumping around here. It looked a decent enough novice chase as Paul Nicholls horse (Golden Son) had some decent form so you would have to be impressed and like what you saw.
“He did win a Martin Pipe last season and you would be hoping he could develop into a smart chaser.
“It is all very well looking like a chaser but there are lots that look like chasers that don’t make it, but he looked like a chaser the way that he jumped. Hopefully he has bright future with a bit of luck.
“It is a good test around here as the fences come up very quick around the back. He hasn’t got loads of experience, as in racing experience, but hopefully he will keep improving.
“He was a bit slow to come to hand. He is a fine big horse and I’d say he just improved with time. If you look at him he is a fine big stamp of a horse.
“The first season we had him he just took time and to be fair one thing his owner (JP McManus) is very good at is being patient with them and it looks like it has paid off.
“He looks exciting, and he looks like he has enough pace to travel away and hopefully he has plenty of stamina too.
“You want horses to win nice novice chases like that and if you don’t have dreams you have nothing.”
Equally delighted by the performance was triumphant joint-trainer Greenall who believes Iroko has the potential to be ‘something serious’.
Greenall said: “He was pretty much foot perfect, bar a couple of small mistakes. He loved the ground and we thought he would like three miles more, but he has travelled like a dream there over two and a half miles. We will probably stick to two and a half for the time being.
“He just missed the ditch halfway down the back, but apart from that Jonjo said he was brilliant.
“There is always a bit of pressure when you have a horse like him. He has been schooling so well at home and you hope he could be something serious.”
Following the race Iroko went from 25-1 into 14-1 by Sky Bet for the Turners Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival while the same firm went 10-1 for the Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase at the same meeting.
As for more immediate targets Greenall hinted that he could step Iroko up to three miles for a tilt at the Ladbrokes Kauto Star Novices’ Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Greenall added: “At Aintree he looked like he wanted a trip, but maybe he had a hard enough race at Cheltenham and he just ran a bit flat at Aintree. Maybe that wasn’t his true reading.
“Whether you go for a smaller race then go up a level or go straight up a level next we will just have to see.
“On a tighter track like Kempton on better ground you could go three miles, but we will see how we go. The Kauto Star could be considered.
“If it is soft ground at Cheltenham he would probably stay at two and a half miles and if it was quick he would go over three miles.”