08/08/2006 12:00AM

Hirapour, 10, back after surgery

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Adam Coglianese / NYRA
Hirapour (left), an Eclipse Award winner in 2004, will make his first start since undergoing ankle surgery in Thursday's A.P. Smithwick.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Not too many horses come back from ankle surgery to race against the best of their division at age 10. But not too many horses are Hirapour.

, the Eclipse Award-winning steeplechaser of 2004, is poised to add to his glittering resume when he makes his first start of the year on Thursday in the Grade 2, $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Steeplechase at Saratoga.

The Smithwick will be Hirapour's first start since Nov. 26, when he came out of the Colonial Cup with a bone chip in his left front ankle, and the distance of the Smithwick - 2 1/16 miles over eight National fences - might be shy of his optimum. But Hirapour comes off an impressive victory in a 1 1/2-mile flat race at Saratoga's pre-meet open house on July 23.

"He steadily picked it up, easy as could be, got through a hole, and did it under a hand ride, so hopefully he's back to his old form," Matthew McCarron, Hirapour's jockey, said Tuesday at the barn of trainer Doug Fout.

Hirapour's old form is pretty special. Hirapour has won 10 times in 19 starts over the jumps, and has finished out of the money just once. He has won four Grade 1 races over the last two seasons, including last year's Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Handicap here at Saratoga.

In his final start of 2005, however, Hirapour landed awkwardly over a jump the last time down the backstretch and emerged from the race with "a big chip," Fout said.

"He had surgery, but when we put him back in training, he was very hesitant the first couple of works," Fout said. "I think he was worried he was going to pull up lame again. It took him a while to get comfortable, but he did."

Fout said his biggest concern with Hirapour on Thursday "is the distance." McCarron concurs.

"Two miles and a sixteenth is not his best," McCarron said. "Two miles and three-eighths, or 2 1/2 miles, suits him better."

The New York Turf Writers is at 2 3/8 miles at the end of the meet. "We want to use this to get him to the Turf Writers," Fout said.

There are seven entered against Hirapour, most notably , who comes off a victory over fellow Smithwick entrant Mark the Shark in the Ferguson Memorial at Colonial on July 16.

Fout also entered , who was a distant third to Sur La Tete in the Grade 1 Iroquois Steeplechase at Percy Warner in Nashville, Tenn., in his last start May 13.

The Smithwick, which will be run over the inner turf and begins at the top of the stretch, is the first race on a nine-race card that also includes the John Morrissey for New York-breds.