08/28/2006 11:00PM

Hirapour gets a heavy task


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Hirapour will be put to a weighty test Thursday, when he carries 164 pounds in the Grade 1, $150,000 New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap at Saratoga. He won last year's Turf Writers Cup under 158 pounds.

A 10-year-old Irish-bred owned by Eldon Farm and trained by Doug Fout, Hirapour is in his final racing season, and the Turf Writers Cup is an important step if he is to win a second Eclipse Award. Hirapour was voted an Eclipse as North America's leading steeplechaser in 2004, and his connections have made winning another title their goal this year.

will face six others starters in the Turf Writers Cup, a 2 3/8-mile race over 10 hurdles. The race begins on the backstretch of the inner turf course.

Hirapour will spot his opponents 10 to 26 pounds. Next on the weight scale, at 154 pounds, is Top of the Bill, a 5-year-old who has won three times since November.

Fout, 49, said that Hirapour had two bouts of colic while recovering from surgery to remove a significant ankle chip late last year, and was in a life-threatening situation.

"For about 30 hours there it was touch-and-go," he said.

Although the weight assignment is six pounds more than Hirapour's previous high, Fout said it will not keep Hirapour out of the race.

"It can't," he said. "If we're going to win this Eclipse, we can't stand in the stall and do it. We've got to run.

"It's a concern," Fout said. "The only thing that is on our side is that when the horse works or schools he always carries me. I weigh 174, and with tack I probably weigh 184. He's used to carrying a lot of weight every day, but it's something new to him in racing."

Hirapour returned to competition in a non-betting race during the open house program July 23 at Saratoga. He prepped for the Turf Writers Cup on Aug. 10 with a strong run in the final half-mile to win the A.P. Smithwick Memorial at Saratoga.

"It's just a credit to his desire and his will to perform," said Hirapour's regular rider, Matthew McCarron. "He grits out every victory he's ever earned. He is just one of the hardest-trying horses I've ever sat on."

"Elway won his two Super Bowls in the twilight of his career," McCarron said, referring to former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway. "It's the same kind of thing. He just has that competitive nature to him."