Shakespeare remained undefeated in five career starts when he outgamed English Channel in Saturday's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) at Belmont Park.
Sent out by the highly successful Hall of Fame trainer-jockey team of Bill Mott and Jerry Bailey, Shakespeare was not asked for much early as Islero Noir set relatively slow fractions of :24 4/5 and :50 3/5 for the first half-mile while being stalked by Ace and English Channel. After the first six furlongs were completed in 1:15 4/5 and a mile was contested in 1:39 2/5, the action picked up as the field rounded the second turn.
Coming out of the turn and into the stretch, Shakespeare and English Channel were fighting for the lead and the battle was on as those two engaged in a stretch duel. In the end, Shakespeare held a head advantage over English Channel, completing the 1 1/2 miles over a firm turf course in 2:27 1/5.
Shakespeare paid $3.80, $3.00, and $2.10. English Channel was worth $4.10 and $2.40, with Ace finishing third and paying $2.20.
A 4-year-old son of Theatrical
bred in Kentucky by Dell Ridge Farm, Shakespeare races for his breeder and William Schettine. After winning his only two starts as a 3-year-old, Shakespeare missed more than 16 months of competition before returning to the races with an allowance victory at Saratoga. Previous to the Turf Classic, Shakespeare won the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) by 3 3/4 lengths.
"He was great," Mott said of Shakespeare. "I think he answered all the questions I had. Obviously, he didn't run away from this field, but that may be better because he showed he could fight a little bit. A lot of horses won't win a dogfight. He showed he had it in him. You just hope it doesn't set him back. Sometimes, hard races can set horses back and they are not at the top of their game, but we do have four weeks. They were going a little slower than I would have hoped. I was starting to think that maybe we were back farther than we should have been. To come from six or seven lengths back off a slow pace is a strong feat. If he's healthy, he goes to the Breeders' Cup Turf."
"I was more worried about him today than I will be four week from now," Bailey said. "I think he probably regressed a little bit (off his last start). He was still good enough to get the job done. He had the worst trip of anybody. I was parked on both turns. I had to put him in to probably a four and a half to five-furlong drive. I know English Channel can blast off at any minute, and I didn't want to give him the edge. I'm very thrilled. He's the kind I get up early in the morning for."
Todd Pletcher, trainer of runner-up English Channel, said: "He ran a dynamite race. We're delighted with his effort. He came up on the wrong end of the bob. It was a slow pace, but I'm happy and pleased with the way he relaxed and rated with that kind of pace. This is a big, big race for him, and we'll probably go on to the (Breeders' Cup Turf)."