Phelps- and Bowman-backed colt Cerro inspires Derby dreams

After rewriting the Olympic record books for swimming, Michael Phelps and his longtime coach might have the Kentucky Derby in their sights with a 3-year-old colt named Cerro who won a race Saturday at Gulfstream Park for Team Valor International.

Baltimore's Phelps and Bob Bowman joined the Team Valor group that races Cerro after he finished third at Gulfstream in Hallandale Beach, Fla., on Jan. 1 for Maryland-based trainer Graham Motion. Team Valor and Motion won the Derby two years ago with Animal Kingdom.

Bowman and Phelps were both traveling when Cerro scored by two lengths over Sky Captain in a $54,500 allowance optional claiming race on the dirt Saturday and paid $6 to win. Cerro finished in 1 minute, 50.29seconds on a fast track.

"Neither one of us got to see the race, but we are really excited to be part of Cerro's partnership and see what he can do as he moves along this spring," Bowman said.

Cerro is scheduled to race one more time at Gulfstream on March 3 in the Grade 3 Palm Beach Stakes and then move on to Kentucky for the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park on March 23. Team Valor and Motion swept the Spiral in 2011 with Animal Kingdom and in 2012 with Went the Day Well, who finished a troubled fourth in the Derby.

Phelps has been eager to get involved in horse racing since he retired from competitive swimming after the 2012 Summer Olympics. Bowman bred and raced thoroughbreds in the past and introduced Phelps to the intricacies of the sport. They have visited Motion's base at Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton.

Phelps grew up watching the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, and Bowman and Phelps attended the Kentucky Derby together in 2009 and were at Pimlico when Animal Kingdom finished second in the 2011 Preakness. Bowman knows his way around the racetrack — he maintained a small roster of thoroughbreds in Maryland from 2001 to 2010, winning the $100,000 Dancing County Stakes in 2008 at Laurel Park.

"I've always loved racing and I got out because it just got to be a little much with the coaching, but now that Michael has retired and we're on a little more flexible schedule, we both wanted to have fun with it," Bowman said. "I think he's always seen how much fun I've had with it and wanted to get involved, and this is a great opportunity for us to do it."

Barry Irwin's Team Valor International syndicates each horse among a group of partners, varying from a handful of members to as many as 20, which is the size of the Animal Kingdom syndicate. Team Valor has 40 racehorses in the United States and an additional 25 in Europe, South Africa and Australia.

Moon Filly wins at Laurel

Moon Filly took the short way home, tracking the pace from her position along the fence, then tipping out to pass the front-runner and pull away to win the $125,000 Nellie Morse Stakes for fillies and mares Saturday at Laurel Park.

Jeremy Rose was at the controls as the daughter of Malibu Moon lived up to her role as 4-5 favorite to win by 31/4 lengths in 1:44.67 for the 11/16-mile distance. Touch The Birds stayed on after leading all the way into the stretch to hold second while Access To Charlie, who was in the hunt throughout, finished third. Moon Filly paid $3.60.

"It is one of the few races that placed out just like I hoped," Rose said. "It seemed like horses weren't winning from the lead today and ones that were behind the second or third flight weren't closing either, so coming from the rail I got her to relax and into proper position hoping the six [Touch The Birds] would open up a length on the field so I could get to where I wanted."

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