09/29/2005 12:00AM

Will Shakespeare fold or fly late?

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Shakespeare will be asked to run three furlongs farther than ever before in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Shakespeare has come a long way, recovering from a serious knee injury last year that threatened to end his career after only two races.

Saturday, he will try to run a long way in the 1 1/2-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park.

The Grade 1, $750,000 Hirsch is the latest challenge for the unbeaten 4-year-old Shakespeare, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott.

extended the winning steak to four in the Grade 2 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap on Sept. 11. He beat three rivals that afternoon at 1 1/8 miles which equaled the longest race of his career.

He now steps up to the test that determines his status for the Breeders' Cup Turf at the same 1 1/2 miles on Oct. 29 at Belmont.

"Shakespeare's got to go an additional three furlongs beyond what he has ever been," Mott said. "I'm confident that he's a very good horse, a high-quality horse. I think the mile and a half is certainly something that he has to try and prove that he can do.

"We've tried horses in the past that appeared to be able to get the trip, but the last eighth of a mile might get them in the end. So I would feel very comfortable in saying he would be a top-quality horse at a mile and a quarter. Let's just see how he gets along over the weekend and we will know if we're good enough for the Breeders Cup."

The Breeders' Cup question also hangs over English Channel, one of the leading 3-year-olds on the grass. He scored wins in the Colonial Turf Cup and the Grade 3 Virginia Derby, both at Colonial Downs. He was second last time out after setting the pace in the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park.

"In the Secretariat, we found ourselves on the lead, and clearly that was not where you wanted to be on the day," said trainer Todd Pletcher. "In the three big races run that day, the Beverly D., the Arlington Million, and the Secretariat, he was really the only horse that showed any pace at all that was even close toward the end of the race.

"We thought that he ran well enough and he has trained well enough since then to deserve a chance to run in the Turf Classic," Pletcher said. "We will see how we do and decide whether or not we have a horse that's ready for the Breeders' Cup this year or if we need to wait another year until he's a 4-year-old."

Meteor Storm, runner-up to Shakespeare in the Belmont Breeders' Cup, returns for a rematch. The 6-year-old Meteor Storm is looking for his first win since Belmont's Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap in June 2004.

Evening Attire, winner of the 2002 Jockey Club Gold Cup, will try to end a nine-race losing streak.

Salford City and Ace race as an entry. Ace and Islero Noir are European runners making their North American debuts.

French-based Alost made his last two starts in the U.S., finishing fourth in the Manhattan Handicap and sixth in the Arlington Million.

The Hirsch is the first leg of Saturday's $400,000-guaranteed NTRA National Pick 4.

The field

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic
Purse: $750,000; 1 1/2 miles; Grade 1

1Meteor StormJ. Castellano1266-1
2English ChannelJ. Velazquez1214-1
3a-Salford CityJ. Bravo1263-1
4Evening AttireJ. Samyn12650-1
5Islero NoirE. Prado1268-1
6a-AceP. Valenzuela1263-1
7AlostF. Spanu12610-1
8ShakespeareJ. Bailey1266-5

* a-coupled: Salford City and Ace
* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN