Odds-on favorite Cerro gave trainer Rick Mettee his first win as the conditioner for Team Valor International when he was all out to land the $75,000 Canonero II Stakes June 1 at Pimlico Race Course (VIDEO).
Cerro led to the far turn, then battled Dynamic Strike to his inside through the stretch to win by a head in the 1 1/8-mile feature event for 3-year olds.
Alan Garcia rode Cerro to victory for an ownership partnership that includes Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps, a Baltimore native; his longtime coach Bob Bowman; and former VISA USA chief executive Carl Pascarella.
The winner was timed in in 1:51.81 and paid $3.20. Dreaming of Jazz was a distant third, 12 3/4 lengths behind the first two.
"We knew on paper this was a closer race than what the odds said," Mettee said. "We knew it was going to be a tough race and he got the head bob. I think those first two are pretty solid horses."
"He ran very well," said Forest Boyce, who was aboard Dynamic Strike. "He runs better when he is in striking distance. I had to move early because the other horse was getting his own way early on. I am very proud of the effort and he is just going to get better and better."
Manganaro bred Cerro in Ireland out of the Giant's Causeway mare Ballette.
With his third win in eight starts, Cerro improved his career earnings to $109,125. After breaking his maiden in Italy last summer, the son of Mr. Greeley raced at Gulfstream Park and Keeneland earlier this year under the tutelage of Graham Motion. He posted a sixth-place finish behind Kentucky Derby winner Orb in the Fountain of Youth (gr. II) and a fourth in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III).
This was the first official win as a trainer since 2001 for Mettee, who like Phelps is a Towson High School graduate. Mettee, who spent many years running Godolphin's U.S. division for the Dubai royal family, began his new job at the Fair Hill Training Center May 1.
"It is nice to get off to a great start. Stakes wins are hard to come by," said Mettee, who now has a win and two seconds from three starters this year. "Things are going well. Fair Hill is a wonderful place to train. We have a few nice horses and are going to try to spot them in the right races. I have fond memories of Pimlico. My grandmother lived in Hampden and I used to take the bus here on Saturdays, which is how I got into racing."
The Canonero was the last of 25 stakes races carded at Pimlico during the spring meet, which ends June 8.