The Cleaner could be set for a tilt at the $3 million Sportingbet Cox Plate after digging deep to claim the $80,000 Jeep Don’t Hold Back Handicap (1600 metres) at Moonee Valley on Saturday.

Despite carrying the 60.5kg topweight, The Cleaner jumped fast from the gates and shot to the front to set up a strong lead early before he was joined by First Course.

The pair put 10 lengths on the rest of the field before The Cleaner ($15) worked his way clear of his challenger and worked hard to the line to fend off the late charge of Fast and Free ($7.50) with First Course ($151) hanging on for third.

Longford trainer Mick Burles said The Cleaner would return to Moonee Valley for the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600 metres) on 6 September – a race that carries a ballot exemption from the 25 October Cox Plate.

“I thought he was really gone at the 600 when that other horse took him on but he really digs deep,” the Tasmanian trainer said.

“I’m quite happy for (the other horses) to take him on because I think they’ll come undone before he does.”

Burles said he would love to get a Group race among the list of wins for the gelding, which sits at 16 from 40 starts.

“He didn’t have to win today to go to the Dato but I wanted him to win just to make sure he was right with Noel (Callow) on him, a new rider and all that stuff. It looks like he handled the horse quite good,” he said.

Burles said Callow would likely remain in the saddle. The horse was previously ridden by Anthony Darmanin.

“I can’t wait to get him out to 2000 metres but at the moment I’m just keeping him at a mile for conditioning sake because he loses a bit of condition when you push him out in distance,” Burles said.

“I’ll probably nominate him for the Cox Plate, that’s the only one I am interested in. If he wins the Dato, he’s automatically in it.”

Callow said The Cleaner did not deserve the win given the run he had, but was impressed with the depth of the horse.

“He got pressured by Kenny Keys’ horse (First Course), but that’s why they call it a race,” Callow said.

“If I was interviewed at the 600 I would have said to myself ‘we’re in a bit of trouble here’ but he’s as tough as boots and he stuck it out.”