08/02/2007 3:40AM

The Return of The Bard


I have got to start looking at tomorrow's Saratoga pp's a little earlier.

The problem tonight was that I started my homework not with Saratoga but with Saturday's Claiming Crown races at Ellis Park, for some things I'm writing and taping tomorrow. It's easy to get lost in those old warriors' lifetime pp's, and the next thing I know it's getting nearer to dawn than midnight.

Meanwhile, something had been bugging me about Fantastic Shirl, the winner of Wednesday's De La Rose, who I wrote about in my last two posts. Her dam's name, Lady Shirl, looked really familiar, as if I'd typed it a few times but not recently. I finally looked her up and figured out why: Lady Shirl is the dam of Shakespeare, the meteoric grass star of 2005 who went from winning a N2x allowance at Saratoga that July to outduelling a pup named English Channel in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic that Oct. 1. I remember watching the race with Joe in the box area at Belmont and that he was rooting for the undefeated colt. Four weeks later, Shakespeare was 7-2 in the Breeders' Cup Turf won by Shirocco, finishing 12th and disappearing from the racing scene.

So after finding out that Fantastic Shirl is Shakespeare's half-sister, I finally crack open the Thursday pp's, get to the eighth-race optional claimer, and -- there he is! Shakespeare! Making his first start since Oct. 29, 2005. Spooky.

I don't know what's happened to him since then, and it's a little late, or early, to call anyone at 4:22 a.m. to find out. Internet searches keep leading me to Shakespeare quotes about horses ("A horse! a horse! My kingdom for a horse!"), so all I know is that the 6-year-old by Theatrical has moved from Bill Mott to Kiaran McLaughlin; that he's coming off two bullet half-mile grass works at Belmont; that he won that 2005 Saratoga race off a 16-month layoff; and that he's got to beat Art Master, coming off a big victory in the G3 Poker.

But it's another reason to get up in the morning, which is just about here.