The undefeated Shakespeare blew past grade I winner Meteor Storm in mid-stretch en route to his first graded stakes victory, a track-record win in the $197,200 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIT) on the turf Sunday.
In his second start for trainer Bill Mott after missing 16 months due to a knee injury, Shakespeare covered the 1 1/8-mile distance in 1:45.06 on firm going. The 4-year-old son of Theatrical
was geared down at the end by jockey Jerry Bailey to win by 3 3/4 lengths.
That broke the outer course record of 1:45 1/5 set by Golden Commander on May 15 in the Kingston Handicap.
Mott was mulling his options afterward, including the $1 million Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) on Oct. 1 and the $2 million John Deere Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) Oct. 29. Both races are at 1 1/2 miles on the Belmont lawn.
"He seems to be a horse that would be perfect for a mile and a quarter," Mott said. "I guess if we want to go a mile and a half, we just have to try it and see what happens. I don't think we would want to cut him back to a mile. I suppose, if he had already tried a mile and a half, we could be more confident, but at least he is not over-raced. "
Meteor Storm finished second and pacesetting Muqbil third, five lengths farther back, in a field reduced to four by the scratches of Proud Man and Greek Sun. Evening Attire trailed.
Shakespeare, who has won four races in his brief career, was three wide into the clubhouse turn before Bailey took the colt back to track Muqbil and Meteor Storm. Muqbil, ridden by Richard Migliore, was allowed to take a substantial lead while clicking off fractions of :23 4/5, :47 3/5 and 1:10 2/5. Meteor Storm, Javier Castellano aboard, overtook the front-runner in upper stretch but didn't hold it long as Shakespeare blew past in the middle of the course. Bailey, wrapped up on the winner, was looking over his left shoulder as they approached the wire.
"I took a hold of him to see how much he would turn off, thinking of the future and a mile and a half," Bailey said. "He turned off fine. He was certainly there for everything he needed through the stretch. I think he is adaptable to about anything.
"The course is very, very firm, but don't take too much away from this horse," Bailey added. "He is a very good horse."
William C. Schettine and breeder Dell Ridge Farm own Shakespeare, who was produced in Kentucky by the That's a Nice mare Lady Shirl. Shakespeare won a second-level allowance race at 1 1/16 miles in his return race, which came at Saratoga July 27. Sunday's win, worth $124,320, increased Shakespeare's earnings to $214,140.
The 1-2 favorite in the reduced field, Shakespeare paid $3.10 and $2.10. Meteor Storm, still looking for his first victory since the Manahattan (gr. IT) at Belmont in June 2004, returned $2.10.