Valley Forge overcame his inexperience to win the Sky Bet Melrose Handicap at York in battling fashion on only his fifth start.
Having his first run in a handicap, the Andrew Balding-trained three-year-old came out on top in a bunch finish to the mile-and-three-quarter test – with the winner guaranteed a place in next year’s Ebor.
That may be 12 months away to the day, but the way Valley Forge (10-1) stayed on well for David Probert to hold Moshaawer by half a length, with Ravenscraig Castle a nose away in third and Dhushan a neck back in fourth, suggests he could turn up for the big one in 2022.
Balding’s wife, Anna Lisa, said: “It’s nice to have a winner for George Strawbridge. Andrew’s father trained for him as well. It’s a pity the owner can’t be here, but I’m sure he cheered him home.
“I think he’s a really exciting horse. He’s good looking, and I’ve just been reminded if you win this you’re in (the Ebor) next year.
“He’ll go home tomorrow, and Andrew will make sure he comes out of the race all right and then make a plan. I’m so pleased.”
Probert said: “We didn’t have the ideal draw in 16. I just wanted him to get a mid-div position without being too far out of his ground.
“I thought with him being slightly inexperienced he might not be able to do that, but he was brave throughout.
“When the race opened up, he found an extra gear – and he was very tough at the line. The second horse gave a run from a furlong out, but my horse picked up well.
“He has a great attitude at home. He’s not the flashiest in the mornings – but when he’s at the races, he’s very professional. He’d probably have the stamina for a Cesarewitch.
“He’s lightly-raced but he might benefit for another year. He’s potentially very nice for next year.”
Valley Forge was cut to 12-1 from 25-1 for the Cesarewitch at Newmarket.
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