01/28/2005 12:00AM

With award on the line, Hirapour scored

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Trainer Doug Fout took the blame when Hirapour finished second to McDynamo in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase in New Jersey in October.

A month later, Fout was able to take credit when Hirapour reversed the result with a victory in the Grade 1 Colonial Cup in South Carolina.

That win and a victory in the Grade 1 Royal Chase at Keeneland in April was enough for Hirapour to earn the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding steeplechase horse of 2004.

"I galloped and worked that horse; all the time I always felt he was the best horse," Fout said.

Bred by The Aga Khan and owned by Eldon Farm, made just four official starts in 2004, a campaign interrupted by a pesky quarter crack to his left front foot. The injury left Hirapour with two starts in the spring and two in the fall.

In his first start of the year, Hirapour finished second to Eclipse Award finalist Preemptive Strike in the Carolina Cup at Camden, S.C., in March. He followed that race with a victory as the favorite in the Royal Chase.

An Irish-bred 8-year-old by Kahyasi out of the Mouktar mare Himaya, Hirapour did not return until the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase over 2 5/8 miles at Far Hills, N.J., on Oct. 23. Last of seven through the first half of the race, Hirapour rallied under jockey Matt McCarron to finish 1 1/2 lengths behind McDynamo.

"I made a mistake in the Breeders' Cup," Fout said. "I told Matt to stay too far out of it.

"Breeders' Cup was a real hard fall for me. I prepped him in two point-to-point races, and he was set up just the way we wanted. That was a real big shocker for me. It made me go back to the drawing board."

With the Eclipse Award at stake in the Colonial Cup at Camden on Nov. 21, Hirapour rallied from sixth to win by 2 3/4 lengths over an outstanding field that included McDynamo, Preemptive Strike, and Sur la Tete.

"I was pretty confident when we went to the Colonial Cup," Fout said. "I got our act back together. He was right on what he needed to be."

Hirapour stays in training in 2005. His first start will be the Carolina Cup in Camden on April 2.