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.
Attagirl (7-2) made amends for a narrow defeat at Newbury eight days earlier when taking the Listed spoils in the Julia Graves Roses Stakes.
The Karl Burke-trained filly stuck on well to beat Caturra by half a length in the hands of Danny Tudhope to compensate for her head defeat by Tardis in the St Hugh’s Stakes.
“A winner at York – you can’t beat it – and a fast time as well,” said Steve Parkin, executive chairman of owners Clipper Logistics.
“We weren’t going to run her, because she ran last week at Newbury and she should have won. She drifted and got chinned on the line.
“Karl said she was bouncing and she is a big filly. I thought she did it very well.
“We’ll get her home and let Karl and the team see how she is. It was important to get black type because we own the mare.
“I haven’t had a drink all week, with sponsoring and having guests here, but we’re having a big party tonight, so I will have a drink. We’ll celebrate tonight.”
Migration (3-1 favourite) gave William Buick a double in the Sky Bet Handicap, following the jockey’s win on Space Blues in the City Of York Stakes.
David Menuisier’s five-year-old was adding to his success at Glorious Goodwood on what was only his third start since returning from 641 days sidelined through injury.
Menuisier said: “When they come out after an injury like he did you always hope they are going to come back to their level.
“When they do that and improve by God knows how much in their next stride it is so special. We do love him. He’s in the Cambridgeshire. He will carry a lot of weight, I suppose – so as we speak, I’m not sure.”
Trainer Michael Dods took the concluding Sky Bet Apprentice Handicap for a fourth time when Blackrod (5-1) finished strongly under Billy Garritty to beat Digital by a neck.
“Fair play to David Armstrong (owner). We had him in at Newmarket last week, and he said ‘is there anything at York’? I said there was only the three-year-old race over five furlongs,” said Dods.
“I said I couldn’t see him being sharp enough for five, especially if we didn’t get any rain. Fair play to him, he said let him take his chance.
“This horse is better over six. But his class has saw him through, and we had the strongest apprentice available.
“This a horse with a massive future. He could be anything in another year.”