Shakespeare, an easy winner while setting a course mark in the nine-furlong Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) Sept. 11, steps up and stretches out Saturday in the 1 1/2-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Belmont Park.
The Turf Classic is one of five grade I races at Belmont as the track gears up to host the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships Oct. 29. The Turf Classic, along with the Beldame (gr. I) for older fillies and mares, and the $1-million Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) will be shown live on ESPN.
Belmont Park will offer a $500,000 guaranteed Pick Four that includes the Beldame, Turf Classic, Gold Cup, and Flower Bowl Invitational Handicap (gr. IT). Additionally, the NTRA will offer a $400,000 guaranteed Pick Four of the Turf Classic, Super Derby (gr. II) from Louisiana Downs, Gold Cup, and Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) from Oak Tree.
Shakespeare, a 4-year-old son of Theatrical
out of the That's a Nice mare Lady Shirl, has only made four career starts, but has made the most of them. Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, Shakespeare is owned by Dell Ridge Farm (breeder) and William Schettine.
A knee injury knocked Shakespeare out of action following a win in the Caltech Stakes at Gulfstream in March of 2004 in just his second start and he didn't return until July 27 at Saratoga where he won an allowance on the turf by 1 3/4 lengths. He followed that with his Belmont BC score, getting the 1 1/8 miles in a record 1:45 over the inner turf course. Finishing 3 3/4 lengths back was Meteor Storm, who has also been entered in the Turf Classic.
"He surprised me the way he relaxed," said jockey Jerry Bailey of Shakespeare's effort in a track release said. "I knew he'd finish well, but the way he turned off and relaxed, it made his finish better. I didn't know how effective he'd be going a mile and an eighth. I guess there's question with him going a mile and a half, but the way he settled the other day, I don't think it will be a problem."
Serious challenges abound for Shakespeare. One will come from the 3-year-old English Channel, a winner of five of seven career turf outings. Perfect in three stakes earlier this year, the son of Smart Strike
ran second last time out, finishing 1 3/4 lengths behind Gun Salute in the 10-furlong Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) at Arlington Park Aug. 13.
"He's better when he's covered up, but there doesn't appear to be much speed in the Turf Classic," said his trainer Todd Pletcher. "It's going to be a fine line between not strangling him to death and getting him to relax, keeping him covered up. He's trained super since the Secretariat and we've got a good amount of time from the Secretariat to here. Hopefully, we've got a fresh and fit horse."
Other strong contenders include Ace, who is winless this year but is coming off a strong fourth behind Oratorio, Motivator, and Alexander Goldrun in the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) at Leopardstown Sept. 10. The 4-year-old son of the late Danehill will be ridden by Pat Valenzuela in his U.S. debut. He is owned by Susan Magnier and is trained by Aidan O'Brien. Prior to his Champion effort, he was fourth, beaten just a half-length, in the Juddmonte International (Eng-I) at York.
Alost, a 5-year-old gelding by Highest Honor, comes into the Turf Classic off a wide-trip, sixth-place finish behind Powerscourt in the Arlington Million (gr. IT)Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (gr. IT), $750,000, 1 1/2 miles, turf, 3-year-olds and up, Belmont Park, approx. post time 4:45 p.m. EDT; televised live on ESPN.
PP - Horse - Wgt. - Jockey
1 - Meteor Storm - 126 - Javier Castellano
2 - English Channel - 121 - John Velazquez
3 - Salford City - 126 - Joe Bravo
4 - Evening Attire - 126 - Jean-Luc Samyn
5 - Islero Noir - 126 - Edgar Prado
6 - Ace - 126 - Pat Valenzuela
7 - Alost - 126 - Frederic Spanu
8 - Shakespeare - 126 - Jerry Bailey