Rallying from last in a compact field of six, Shkspeare Shaliyah surged past his rivals in deep stretch to win Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Pilgrim going away by a length at Belmont Park. In the process, the promising colt advertised his credentials for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, handed owner/trainer Doodnauth Shivmangal his first graded victory, and became the first stakes winner sired by turf star Shakespeare.
"We refused a lot of money for this horse," Shivmangal said, "but we didn't sell him because we bought this horse for my granddaughter, and there is no amount of money that can buy this horse. He is definitely headed to the Breeders' Cup.
"This race was for my mom and my dad and for my sister who is very sick in Canada and for my granddaughter Shaliyah, who this horse is named for."
The Pilgrim appeared to be competitive on paper, even more so after the withdrawal of unbeaten Grade 2 With Anticipation hero State of Play because of the rain-softened ground. Well-regarded debut winner Fantastic Song, whose dam is a half-sister to Shakespeare, rated as the 8-5 favorite. Shkspeare Shaliyah, a last-to-first maiden winner over this course and distance, and Captain Webb, sixth when favored in the With Anticipation, were dispatched as the co-second choices at 2-1.
Captain Webb set the pace while attended by Fox Rules through dawdling fractions of :27 1/5, :55 2/5 and 1:21 2/5 on the soft inner turf. Given the funereal pace, the group was well bunched, and Shkspeare Shaliyah was only about three lengths back in the rear.
Down the stretch, a cavalry charge ensued with most of the field still in the hunt. Fantastic Song bore down to the outside of Captain Webb, and Kitten's Kid made eye-catching progress to his inside. Just when Kitten's Kid struck the front in what looked like a perfectly-timed move, Shkspeare Shaliyah erupted wider out for Alex Solis. Finding the best turn of foot in the conditions, he sluiced past to finish 1 1/16 miles in 1:51 2/5.
"They were walking because the track is very loose," Solis said. "He is a very special horse; he has a tremendous turn of foot. I had him relaxed the first part in behind the speed. I got him to the top of the stretch and I asked him and he finished really strong."
"I knew he was going to make that one big run," Shivmangal said, "and the longer the races get, the more he wants to go."
Kitten's Kid prevailed by a nose in a three-way tussle for the runner-up spot. Fantastic Song took third, a head in front of Captain Webb. Knock Rock and Fox Rules rounded out the order of finish.
Shkspeare Shaliyah boosted his bankroll to $96,700 from his 3-2-0-1 record, all on turf. The bay colt has settled in last in both of his previous races. Thirteen lengths back off a slow start in his August 27 debut at Saratoga, he rallied so well that he was beaten just a length in third. Shkspeare Shaliyah teamed up with Solis next time in a September 18 maiden at Belmont, where he was again tardy at the gate, but he was along in time by a half-length at the wire.
"This morning, after I gave him a bath and put him in the stall, he was eager to go," Shivmangal said. "We thought he might break through the webbing.
"I told everyone he is not going to lose, I know this horse. He is the best horse I have ever trained. He is very professional."
Bred by Guilherme Bombonato and Angela Bombonato in Florida, Shkspeare Shaliyah was purchased for $21,000 this past June as a two-year-old in training at OBS. He was produced by the Clever Trick mare Tricky Mistress, making him a half-brother to the stakes-placed pair of Zip Trick and Master Tricky.
It was fitting that Shakespeare's first stakes winner should score at Belmont Park. Shakespeare, who set a course record on the inner turf in the 2005 Grade 2 Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap, famously denied English Channel in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. On Sunday, their sons reprised the battle: Shkspeare Shaliyah defeated English Channel's son, Captain Webb.