Michael Phelps will forever be viewed as one of the greatest
athletes of all-time. The Maryland native is the most decorated Olympian ever,
having an incredible 22 Olympic metals to his credit, 18 of which are gold –
also a record. Following the 2012 London Olympics, from which he took home 4
gold and 2 silver metals, Phelps officially retired from swimming.
But Phelps remains in the realm of sports, but not as a competitor. Phelps,
alongside his longtime friend and coach Bob Bowman, is among the Team Valor group that owns Cerro, a blossoming three-year-old colt
in the barn of Graham Motion. And
just as he did during his swimming career, Phelps is aiming for the pinnacle.
Cerro could be on the path to the Kentucky Derby.
The Irish-bred colt began his career in Italy, winning his debut on the turf.
Catching the eye of founder and CEO of Team Valor International, Barry Irwin,
Cerro was purchased by Team Valor and brought to the United States.
The colt made his North American debut in the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. III) on the yielding turf at Belmont, but crossed
the wire a disappointing sixth. After almost two months away from the races,
the chestnut finished fourth in a one-mile allowance optional claiming over
Gulfstream Park’s turf course. Interestingly, Cerro finished behind Undrafted,
a colt owned by the New England Patriots’ wide receiver Wes Welker, in that
A switch to dirt launched a course of improvement for Cerro. His dirt debut
occurred in a mile and one-sixteenth allowance optional claiming event, in
which he ran third. It was his following start that insinuated this colt could
be approaching stakes success. Breaking cleanly from the inside post of a
nine-furlong allowance optional claiming at Gulfstream on January 26, Cerro
immediately galloped to the lead with Javier Castellano aboard. The chestnut
colt set steady fractions throughout the race, maintaining a comfortable lead
while traveling about the dirt oval with commanding strides. Castellano
remained motionless aboard the colt around the far turn prior to urging the
Graham Motion trainee to accelerate. Cerro responded, drawing clear from his
rivals to post an easy 2 ½-length victory over dominant Churchill Downs maiden
winner Sky Captain.
The plan is for Cerro to make his next start in the Palm Beach Stakes (gr. III)
prior to shipping to Kentucky to compete in the Spiral Stakes (gr. III), a race
Team Valor won with Went the Day Well
in 2012, a year after their eventual Kentucky Derby victor Animal Kingdom captured Turfway Park’s premier Derby prep.
Already a winner at nine furlongs, Cerro’s pedigree suggests that classic
distances will not be an issue. Though the topside of his pedigree implies
otherwise, the strength in Cerro’s ancestry is most prominent on his dam’s side.
A son of a stallion that excelled as a sprinter, in Mr. Greeley, Cerro is a
grandson of Gone West. Though Gone West never won beyond nine furlongs, he
sired the likes of the distances horses Came Home (winner of the ten-furlong
Pacific Classic), Commendable (winner of the twelve-furlong Belmont Stakes),
Johar (winner of the twelve-furlong Breeders’ Cup Turf), and Marsh Side (a
multiple grade one winner at twelve furlongs). He is also the grandsire of
Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones, as well as the broodmare sire
of Belmont Stakes victor Union Rags.
Cerro’s dam, Ballette, has also produced Sachem Spirit, a full brother to Cerro
that has won a pair of two-turn turf races – one of which was a nine-furlong
allowance at Keeneland – and placed
in the Arlington Classic Stakes. Ballette is a daughter of Giant’s Causeway,
the leading sire in North America for three of the past four years. Giant’s
Causeway – a multiple group one-winning champion that won at ten furlongs on
numerous occasions – has succeeded with producing an abundance of distance
horses, including Fairbanks, Giant Oak, Heatseeker, Hold Me Back, Irish
Mission, Mike Fox, Red Giant, and Swift Temper. As a broodmare sire, the son of
Storm Cat has produced the dams of the likes of the router Planteur, a group
one winner that has been victorious at or beyond twelve furlongs multiple times.
Cerro should also gain assistance in stamina from the sire of his granddam,
Nijinsky. Winner of the 1970 English Triple Crown, Nijinsky has proven to be a
strong stamina influence in the pedigrees of Thoroughbred racehorses and like
Cerro, he is the sire of the granddam of Union Rags, winner of the 2012
Belmont. He is also the sire of the third dams of Summer Bird, winner of the
2009 Belmont, and Encke, winner of the 2012 St. Leger Stakes – the final leg of
Great Britain’s Triple Crown, contested at approximately fourteen furlongs.
Notably, the third dam of Cerro is Sex Appeal, one of the best broodmares of
all-time. Among her offspring are the champions El Gran Senor and Try My Best,
as well as the multiple group stakes-winning Solar. El Gran Senor, a leading
sire, won the twelve-furlong Irish Derby (gr. I).
Displaying an exceptional blend of speed, stamina, and class, Cerro’s ancestry
is evident in his appearance. A strapping chestnut, Cerro could have no better
team campaigning him. His trainer has won the Kentucky Derby with his owner,
Team Valor International. And of course, among that Team Valor partnership is
the most decorated Olympian of all-time.
Cerro could serve as the perfect catalyst for Phelps’ involvement with horse
racing. Regardless of how Cerro fares in the future, it is simply a good thing
that this esteemed Olympian has joined the sport of kings. Michael Phelps
clearly already has plenty of accomplishments attached to his name, but a
Kentucky Derby victory – or even a graded stakes win by a horse he owns, for
that matter – would be icing on the cake
and would certainly garner great attention for the sport of horse racing.