Referred to by many in his native land as "the Secretariat" of Indian Thoroughbred racing, Serjeant At Arms turned in a solid performance in his United States and 2018 debut Feb. 23 when he finished second in a tough allowance-optional claiming race going 1 1/8 miles on the turf at Tampa Bay Downs.
A winner of 14 stakes races in 16 stakes tries in India, Serjeant At Arms has career earnings of $675,155. He was named India's champion miler last year.
With jockey Fergal Lynch down from Maryland to handle the 5-year-old in his U.S. debut, Khushroo Dhunjibhoy and Vispi Patel's Serjeant At Arms tracked the leaders along the rail to the stretch, surged through along the inside to challenge for the lead with stablemate Scholar Athlete in the stretch, before just hanging a bit in his first start since August to finish second. He was beaten three-quarters of a length by Scholar Athlete in a field that included four stakes winners from six starters.
The Tampa effort was still impressive considering Serjeant At Arms hadn't raced in more than six months, had to endure a taxing quarantine process, and had travelled about 10,000 miles. Trainer Graham Motion was encouraged by the effort.
"The quarantine and global travel is long and debilitating, an experience that is really taxing," Motion said. "When we got him (at Fair Hill, Md.), we didn't do much as far as training for about a month. We just let him relax and get used to his new surroundings and recover. Once we began to bring him back it was obvious early on we were dealing with a horse of some substance.
"He's a thorough professional about his work, and he has that presence that the good ones possess. The folks at the barn are very fond of him, and he's got his own little fan club among the staff."
Serjeant At Arms began his journey after his final race of 2017 in India, a win in the Karnataka Mile Championship Cup (a local grade 2) over the Bangalore Course in August. Before being shipped to the U.S., he spent the first part of his quarantine in India, then was flown to Chicago where he completed the quarantine period before finally making it to Motion's headquarters at Fair Hill.
The trip from India to Chicago was some 8,000 miles. Then another trip of 733 miles was required to get to Fair Hill. After getting Serjeant At Arms acclimated and rejuvenated from his travels, the son of Ikhtyar was shipped to Motion's winter training headquarters at Palm Meadows, another trip of about 1,000 miles.
Since moving to Florida, Serjeant At Arms has been training with grade 1 winner Ring Weekend. Motion believes he can move forward off the initial effort.
"If you take everything into consideration, the long trip, the quarantine process, and the fact he hadn't run since August, I'd say he ran a bang-up race. Our other horse in the race (winner Scholar Athlete) is a hard-knocking horse in his own right, and there were some very classy individuals in that field. It could well have been a grade 3 stake on quality.
"We're going to see how he comes back off the race, but right now we'll be looking for a grade 2 or 3 race for him, or perhaps an allowance race at Keeneland. I would think we're looking at about a month before he runs back. The race at Tampa was nine furlongs, but I'm thinking a mile or mile and a sixteenth is probably his best distance range. I give his owners a lot of credit for giving him a chance to leave his native country and try global competition. I think you'll be hearing more about him as time goes on, he's a really nice horse."
Patel, part owner of Serjeant At Arms, was at Tampa to watch his debut. Patel said racing in the U.S. ensured that his runner would face one long trip, as opposed to a number of international trips.
"To race with top competition in other parts of the world such as Europe or Hong Kong would mean he would be travelling almost constantly and would never have a home, so to speak," Patel said. "The quarantine rules for horses from India are so stringent, we felt if we wanted to race with world-class runners and still be able to do what was best for the horse, and have him have a place to call home, then sending him to Mr. Motion made the most sense.
"We're hoping to earn some graded black type in this country for him for he will eventually be sent to stud. Mr. Khushroo Dhunjibhoy is majority owner, and is the chairman of the Royal Western India Turf Club and this is his eighth term as chairman."
Bred in India by Nanoli Stud and Agricultural Farms, Serjeant At Arms is out of the Rahy mare Rahy's Serenade, who has produced six horses who have won stakes in India, including Diego Rivera, who also earned champion miler honors. Serjeant At Arms is inbred 3x5 to Northern Dancer and 5x5 to Hail to Reason.
Kentucky-bred Rahy's Serenade was purchased for $8,000 by Clifden Company at the 1999 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, where she was consigned by Walmac International. Sold in foal to Allied Forces, Rahy's Serenade shipped to India in 2000 and delivered Allies Serenade, who won two stakes in India and has produced three black-type winners out of three to race.