08/26/2009 11:00PM

Serrano making up for lost time

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You can't knock a guy for going into the family business after trying his hand at law enforcement. It just isn't often that riding horses at Suffolk Downs is the safer of two career options.

Apprentice jockey Robert Serrano says following in his family's footsteps has him much more at ease than a career catching crooks.

"This is my dream," said the 28-year-old native of Valley Stream, N.Y. "I know it's ironic to choose this path, but just a short time made me realize I couldn't live the life of a cop."

Obviously, at 28, his path has been longer and with more twists than your typical apprentice. Serrano grew up spending time in the barn area of New York's racetracks and went to high school just outside the gates of Belmont Park. His father, Jose Serrano, recently retired from an exercise riding career and his uncle is trainer Rafael Medina.

Serrano knew early on he wanted to be a jockey, but he won a scholarship awarded by the New York Racing Association to children of backstretch workers and decided to go to college.

"I got some wise advice to go to school," said Serrano. "People all said, 'The horses will always be here. Get your education while you have the chance.' "

Unfortunately, Serrano found out that college, at that time, wasn't for him. He returned to the track in 2002 and began working for his uncle. Soon he started his jockey apprenticeship and approached Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens looking for guidance.

"My uncle only had about four or five horses, but Mr. Jerkens let me work for him," Serrano said. "You work hard for him and listen and he gives young jocks a chance. There's so much he can teach you. But you really have to work hard."

After going winless in 53 mounts in 2002-03, what Serrano calls "stupid decisions" knocked him out of the the game. He said he allowed his weight to go up and he became depressed. He knocked around for a few years until getting the chance to work in Ocala, Fla.

"I started galloping babies and the fun came back," he said.

He also restarted his education, joining a police academy. It wasn't long before he left to study business management.

"I just couldn't see myself living in fear the way police live," he said. "It was also very much a military life, and I knew that was not for me."

Serrano is proud of his choice to change his education goals while also getting back into racing. Friends, including Suffolk jockey Orlando Bocachica, pointed out he still had time on his "bug" and that Suffolk only required him to maintain a five-pound allowance.

He arrived on the scene earlier this month, and scored his first career victory Aug. 12, helping Sunday Worship overcome a troubled trip in a $5,000 claimer.

"Hopefully things can take off," said Serrano. "I just need a couple credits for my degree, but being able to ride now, when I'm more mature and I think a little more polished, should help me finish what I started five years ago."

* Tallys Sundance looked like a Massachusetts-bred version of Rachel Alexandra winning the Louise Kimball Stakes against statebred 3-year-old fillies two weeks ago by 14 1/2 lengths. She wheels back Saturday in the $50,000 African Prince Stakes with two geldings and a colt now trying to slow her down.