04/16/2004 12:00AM

Hirapour proves cream rises to top

Bill Straus/Keeneland
Hirapour wins the Grade 1, $159,375 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings at Keeneland on Friday.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Hirapour came to America in 2003 with the reputation of being a top steeplechase runner. Friday, in the Grade 1, $159,375 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings at Keeneland, he backed up that reputation.

Hirapour, an 8-year-old gelding by Kayasi, outran a brave Preemptive Strike, winning the 2 1/2-mile Royal Chase by 1 3/4 lengths. Rated confidently by jockey Clayton Chipperfield, he stalked the pace in sixth, made a steady backstretch rally on the final lap, and gradually outfinished early leader Preemptive Strike.

"To come here and win a Grade 1, it's wonderful," said trainer Doug Fout.

Only Chipperfield, who dismounted in the winner's circle with a back flip, could surpass Fout's exuberance.

Hirapour's athleticism was similarly impressive. He jumped the fences well, particularly the last two.

But Preemptive Strike, who had beaten Hirapour in their preceding matchup in March, was not finished. He rallied back after being passed in midstretch, but proved unable to outkick the winner in the final straight. He finished seven lengths in front of third-place Dancewel.

Hirapour ($4.40), favored in the field of eight, earned $95,625 for the Eldon Farm Racing Stable. He covered the distance in 4:41.48 over a firm course.

Hirapour joined elite company in winning the Royal Chase, the second- richest event on the annual National Steeplechase Association schedule behind the $175,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase. The Royal Chase has been won by in past years by eventual Eclipse Award winners Lonesome Glory, Flat Top, Pompeyo, and McDynamo.

'Mayo' takes Doubledogdare

Midway on the turn in the co-featured $122,300 Doubledogdare Stakes, Mayo on the Side appeared hopelessly blocked. Moments later, a dream opening on the rail appeared, and she surged to 1 3/4-length victory over Cat Fighter under jockey Pat Day. "Pat's the miracle man," trainer Carl Nafzger said.

Aside from lacking room on the turn, Mayo on the Side had a favorable trip. She stalked the pace in fourth, as Cat Tracker and Zawzooth set moderate splits of 23.39 seconds, 47.63, and 1:12.55.

As Cat Tracker battled favored Roar Emotion to her outside, she drifted out slightly under pressure, giving Day and Mayo on the Side the opening they needed. Mayo on the Side drew away under what Day described as mild encouragement. "She was very game, very courageous," he said.

Mayo on the Side, owned by Lothenbach Stables, won for the first time in six starts since taking an allowance at Keeneland in October. The Doubledogdare was her first stakes victory.

She raced 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.92, paying $8.80 as the second choice in the field of eight.

Cat Tracker, hounded throughout on the lead by Zawzooth, held second. She finished 2 1/4 lengths in front of favored Roar Emotion, who flattened out to third in the stretch after launching a bid on the turn.

* Earlier on the card, trainer D. Wayne Lukas unveiled a talented 2-year-old filly in Classic Elegance, who won a 4 1/2-furlong race by 7 1/4 lengths in a swift 51.39 seconds. A daughter of Carson City owned by Bob and Beverly Lewis, she gave Lukas his first winner in 28 starts at the meet.

Wando lands in tough spot

Trainer Michael Keogh passed the April 10 Commonwealth Breeders' Cup with Wando, seeking a less taxing race for his horse's first start of the year. He found an alternative race Sunday at Keeneland, but not the soft spot he desired.

Wando, winner of the 2003 Canadian Triple Crown, is among 10 horses entered in the sixth race, a $67,000 allowance at 1 1/16 miles on turf. Graded stakes winners Hero's Tribute, Della Francesca, and Miesque's Approval head the opposition.

"I was looking for an easier race," Keogh said. "He is not 100 percent, to tell you the truth."

Keogh said he has not outlined a firm schedule for Wando this year, wanting to get through Sunday's race first. He said he planned to give Wando, a 4-year-old son of Langfuhr, opportunities to win a graded stakes race in America.

Although the bulk of Wando's experience has come on the main track, he has performed well in limited opportunities on turf. Last year on grass, he won the final leg of the Canadian Triple Crown and also finished fourth in the Atto Mile.

Patrick Husbands, his regular jockey, "actually thinks he is a little better on turf," Keogh said.

Capac possible for Derby Trial

Capac, a Kentucky Derby hopeful earlier this spring, could race in the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs next Saturday, trainer Mike Bell said. Bell had considered the Lexington Stakes, but preferred to avoid a deep race filled with so much quality.

"Once you're off the Derby trail, hopefully you look at [these races] differently," he said. "You have to play catch-up and most horses don't want to do that."

Capac, a winner of 2 of 4 starts, is unraced since finishing fifth in the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel on Feb. 28. He will breeze Saturday at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Bell said.

Donnie Richardson, senior vice president of racing at Churchill Downs, anticipates a field of eight or nine for the one-mile Derby Trial. Bwana Charlie, Courageous Act, and Sir Shackleton are the likely headliners.

Derby hopeful Rock Hard Ten could use the Derby Trial as a prep for the Preakness if it appears he will not have enough graded stakes earnings to gain entry into the Kentucky Derby, trainer Jason Orman said earlier this week.

Three graded stakes closing week

Closing week at Keeneland includes three Grade 3 Stakes - the 1 1/8-mile Ben Ali, and the Bewitch and Elkhorn, a pair of 1 1/2-mile turf stakes.

Thursday's Ben Ali is expected to draw Sarava, who has gone without a victory in three starts since winning the 2002 Belmont Stakes. Other probables include Congrats and American Style - one-two in an April 3 money allowance at Keeneland - plus Midway Road and Sir Cherokee.

Alternate, Boana, Meridiana, Mexican Moonlight, Ocean Silk, Spice Island, and Tempus Fugit are expected for Wednesday's Bewitch.

The closing-day Elkhorn on Friday is likely to draw Kim Loves Bucky, who won the race in 2002 and 2003.

* Ashland Stakes winner Madcap Escapade, preparing for the April 30 Kentucky Oaks, worked a bullet four furlongs in 46 seconds at Churchill Downs on Thursday. Trainer Frank Brothers said Friday she came out of the work nicely and would have her final breeze before the Oaks late next week.