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Past the Grandstand

Cerro: Michael Phelps' Splash Into Racing

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 race.

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.


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Older Comments about Cerro: Michael Phelps' Splash Into Racing...

Phelps loves to play poker and now he has the ponies, too.
I hope he does make it big. Anything to get more people involved.
He's the next AK.
The rich get richer! But if it means he can bring a higher visibility and new interest in horse racing, I wish him and Team Valor well.
Michael Phelps could be one of the more interesting owner celebrities we've had in racing recently ... Not sure if Cerro is the horse to make it to prime time, but I wish him well.

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About Mary Cage


Mary with champion Classic Empire

Mary Cage has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association and is an intern at WinStar Farm with a client relations and marketing focus, as well as some bloodstock duties.

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. She has also worked as a hotwalker and groom.

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a racing manager or client relations specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan and transport you to some of racing's biggest events through her photos and words.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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