09/30/2005 11:00PM

Shakespeare handles the distance

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Showing tremendous determination, Shakespeare stretched his unbeaten streak to five with a gutsy head victory over English Channel in the Grade 1, $750,000 on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Shakespeare ($3.80) ran the 1 1/2 miles over a firm course in 2:27.22.

The 4-year-old, who suffered a potentially career-ending knee injury last season, passed several important tests in the Hirsch by proving he was a Grade 1-caliber horse who could handle this distance.

Running three furlongs farther than he had ever gone, Shakespeare dug deep for the victory, which will propel him into the Breeders' Cup Turf here on Oct. 29.

"A lot of horses won't win a dogfight," said trainer Bill Mott. "He showed today that he had it in him to do that. That's most important."

A son of Theatrical, Shakespeare had won his previous four races largely on talent as he powered to commanding wins. In the Hirsch, the competition - especially the 3-year-old English Channel - put up a stiff fight.

Jerry Bailey had Shakespeare wide throughout, sitting fifth as a pair of European runners making their U.S. debuts determined the pace. Islero Noir, sent to trainer Christophe Clement by his brother Nicolas in France, went to the front with Ace stalking the leader.

When Shakespeare made his move with a four-wide surge on the final turn, English Channel, with John Velazquez aboard, went right with him to trigger a three-way battle.

Ace, who had disposed of Islero Noir, was on the inside, with English Channel in the middle and Shakespeare continuing his determined rally.

Ace, who finished third, weakened slightly in the final 100 yards as Shakespeare and English Channel dueled right to the wire.

"He had the worst trip of anybody," Bailey said of Shakespeare. "I was parked on both turns, and I had to put him into a four-and-a-half to five-furlong drive.

"I'm very thrilled. He's the kind I get up early in the morning for."

English Channel, one of the leading 3-year-old turf horses with wins in the Colonial Turf Cup and Virginia Derby, rose to the challenge as well, facing older rivals for the first time.

"He ran a dynamite race," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "We're delighted with his effort. He just came up on the wrong end of the bob. This was a big race for him, and we'll probably go on to the Breeders' Cup Turf."