Serve the King (GB) is feeling right at home in surroundings that are, rather appropriately, fit for a king.
A Grade 2 winner and Grade 1 placed star during his racing days, Serve the King (GB) has settled into his new home on the 78-acre farm in Schomberg, Ontario, owned by the Di Paola family, in a custom-built home once inhabited by the legendary Northern Dancer.
“When we acquired him, I realized we would have to call around to other farms to see where we could stand him,” said Santino Di Paola, of the 7-year-old who will stand for $4,000. “We had a few that said they would, but the cost was pretty high, so I thought we might as well spend our own money and build our own spot for him. My cousin Vince and a couple of his guys came up and worked long days and into the night to build this thing. We used all the old Windfields’ stalls, which we bought at the dispersal sale in 2010, and cleaned them all up and put them in the barn.”
Di Paola, who trains a string of nearly 20 horses at Woodbine, stumbled upon Serve the King (GB) ahead of the Keeneland Association Horse of Racing Age Sale this past November.
The more he researched the horse, the more serious he became at bidding on the bay.
He certainly liked what he saw.
Consigned by Norris Bloodstock, Serve the King (GB) was purchased by White Birch Stable for $361,616 at the 2017 Tattersalls October Yearling Sale. His sire, Kingman (GB), is the sire of 54 stakes winners and 34 Group winners, and the second fastest stallion to 50 Northern Hemisphere-bred stakes winners (in 1703 days) behind only Frankel. He stands for 125,000 GBP. Serve the King (GB)’s dam is Fallen in Love (GB) a Group 2-placed daughter of Galileo.
Trained by Chad Brown for owner Peter Brant, Serve the King (GB) was bred by Normandie Stud Ltd. His racing passport includes engagements at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Laurel Park, Monmouth Park, Saratoga, Tampa Bay Downs.
In 2021, Serve the King (GB) took the John’s Call Stakes at Saratoga and was second next time out in the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont. He capped off his career in style when he won the Grade 2 the Red Smith Stakes at Aqueduct.
Serve the King (GB) retired with five wins in 11 races and $406,180 in purse earnings (US).
Di Paola was hooked.
“I was flipping through the catalogue, and he was a supplement. It was the last day of the sale, and I was watching the bidding. The mare’s side was even stronger than his sire’s side, and the sire is extremely impressive. Driving home, I was thinking, ‘I’ve got to get this horse.’ But I thought he would go for a lot of money. I got home and logged on to my computer. My dad came in and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ I told him I wanted to get a horse for myself, possibly thinking that I could run him. Everything came back clean, his x-rays, all of that, so everything seemed good. He comes from a very reputable sales company, so I trusted them. I kept on bidding and my dad was wondering what was going on. When I showed him, he looked at me and said, ‘Okay, I want in.’
“We ended up getting him, at least that’s what I hoped. Keeneland called 10 minutes after the sale and my immediate thought was that we bought the wrong horse. I kept looking at the number to see if it lined up and it was the right one. I really didn’t think we bought the right horse. But they called and congratulated me and then it kind of all hit me.”
If Di Paola had any reservations about the purchase, those fears were quickly allayed in the following days.
His cell phone was kept busy, with calls coming in from North America and beyond.
“Two days after we bought him, I had calls from the U.S., Ireland and other places wanting to buy him and stand him themselves,” said Di Paola, who owns a 60 percent share in the horse (his parents own the other 40 percent). “I told them he wasn’t for sale, but they still asked what I wanted for him. But he wasn’t for sale.”
When the trailer pulled into the Di Paola property, Serve the King (GB) arrived to a regal welcome.
It was a moment that left his new owner momentarily without words.
“I was really speechless. It took about five minutes to get him off the trailer because it was so dark out, but when he walked off that trailer, it was amazing. He is stunning. His size and you can see in his face, that shape where you can tell he’s a stud, but he’s got everything right going on. It almost makes me giddy. He looks like a taller version of [multiple Grade and Group 1 winner] Modern Games.”
Di Paola isn’t the only one impressed by the aura Serve the King (GB) projects.
Visitors to the farm quickly take notice of the eye-catching horse.
“People who have come to see him have been blown away. He is a gentleman. He has a great demeanor about him, just pure class. I’ve had people try to buy shares in him, but I’m not interested in that. Maybe down the line, but not now.”
Di Paola, who began training in 2017, has now added another horse racing role to his expansive repertoire.
A former groom and hotwalker, the 28-year-old’s body of work also includes owner and two Sovereign Award wins, one for photography, the other for video.
An already busy racing life is about to get even more demanding.
“I think I’m all-in. I guess the only thing left on the resume was to be a stallion owner, so here we are. I really want to support the Ontario industry and I truly believe our Canadian horses can compete anywhere and they’ve proven that. Seeing him and how he fits here in Ontario, I thought this could be a really good move.”
One that Di Paola, who had a career-best 2022 campaign, believes could deliver a winner in Canada’s most famous horse race.
Given the stallion’s name, such a victory would be, he offered, most fitting.
“People are trying to breed for distance, perhaps for a King’s Plate, and this is a horse that fits that very well. Honestly, with it now being the King’s Plate, maybe that’s an omen. I think he could produce a King’s Plate winner. It just feels like it’s meant to be. I initially thought that even if no one wants to breed to him we can breed 10 of our own mares and if we get a stakes winner or two, we’d be more than happy. He’s already getting top mares that are booked to him. The response has been pretty amazing from everywhere. We’re thrilled to have him here.”
In a home tailor-made for racing royalty.
“It’s kind of cool to look at the legacy of E.P. Taylor and Windfields, how they were a leader, not just in Canada, but all over, and realize this horse is now living in their stalls.”
Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications / @WoodbineComms