09/13/2007 11:00PM

Shakespeare brings local ties to Woodbine

EmailThe return of Grade 1 winner Shakespeare to the races, in particular in Sunday's $1 million Woodbine Mile, brings to mind his dam's big win at Woodbine in 1991.

Lady Shirl led from start to finish winning the E.P. Taylor Stakes as the favorite for Noel Hickey's Irish Acres Farm, which was essentially considered a local outfit since Hickey raced a stable of horses at Woodbine.

And Garrett Gomez, who rode Lady Shirl that afternoon, will partner with Shakespeare, the morning-line favorite in the Woodbine Mile.

Lady Shirl, a 4-year-old when she won the Taylor, also won the Flower Bowl Invitational and seven other stakes races. She won 16 races from 41 starts and more than $950,000.

Bred in Illinois by Hickey, Lady Shirl is by the Hickey stallion That's a Nice out of the Florida-bred mare Canonization.

After a slow start to her foal production career (she was bred to average sires such as Leo Castelli, Chimes Band, and Victory Speech), Lady Shirl has started to produce runners more like herself.

Shakespeare, winner of the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in 2005, is just back from a long layoff due to a tendon injury, but judging by his win at Saratoga in his return last month, the son of Theatrical seems to be just as good as he was two years ago.

While Shakespeare battles 13 rivals at Woodbine, his young half-sister Fantastic Shirl was expected to be a major player in Saturday's Noble Damsel Stakes at Belmont Park.

A daughter of Fantastic Light, Fantastic Shirl won the De la Rose Stakes last month for her first stakes score.

Lady Shirl has a 2-year-old by Smart Strike named Mattieandmorgan and a yearling filly and full sister to Shakespeare.

While fans of Shakespeare are excited to see if the horse can come back to his Grade 1 form, Ontario horseman Tim Drake and his wife, Suzanne, have a bit more of an interest in the horse since they own a niece.

Deliverusfrom Evil, a 3-year-old filly by Apalachian Chief out of Host of Royalty, is getting set to make her debut at Woodbine in the coming weeks, and with Shakespeare as a close relative, Drake has high hopes.

Host of Royalty is a half-sister to Lady Shirl (by Native Royalty) who won her maiden at Greenwood in 2001 for trainer Sid Attard.

A Canadian-bred, Host of Royalty retired and joined the broodmare ranks of, coincidentally, Bill Sorokolit, who owns Woodbine Mile starter and champion Sky Conqueror.

When Sorokolit put the mare up for auction, Drake bought her and took her back to his 200-acre Silver Duck Farm in King City, Ontario.

"It was kind of by chance I bought Host of Royalty," he said. "She was boarded at my farm by Bill Sorokolit and he put her through the local mixed sale. I very was fond of her, so I bought her."

The Drakes were in the news last week when their homebred filly Gadget Play won a maiden allowance race on turf at 50-1 to become the first winner for their stallion Piccilo Pete, a son of Piccolino.

"Things are going pretty good right now," Drake said. "And I'll be watching the Woodbine Mile

closely. It's exciting for us to have a filly related to the favorite."