08/10/2006 12:00AM

Hirapour takes Smithwick in style


Trainer Doug Fout brought Hirapour back to the races this year at age 10 with one goal in mind, to win an Eclipse Award for the second time in three years. Hirapour on Thursday was making his first start since November, when he chipped an ankle, and was racing over a distance considered short of his best, but the old man looked as spry as ever by romping to a four-length victory in the Grade 2, $79,500 at Saratoga.

Hirapour ($4) and second-choice Good Night Shirt moved as a team on the final turn and quickly reeled in early leaders Mauritania and Mark the Shark, who at one point were 20 lengths in front of their six rivals. Hirapour and Good Night Shirt were alongside one another heading to the last of eight fences, but Hirapour proved strongest after that last jump and was drawing off at the finish. Mauritania was third, 2 1/2 lengths behind Good Night Shirt.

The Eclipse Award-winning steeplechaser in 2004, Hirapour completed 2 1/16 miles over eight National fences in 3:42.26 to record his 11th victory in 20 starts over the jumps. And the crowd at Saratoga, well aware of Hirapour's comeback, gave him a polite cheer when he crossed the line and an even more appreciative cheer when he left the winner's circle.

Matthew McCarron, Hirapour's jockey, pumped his right arm enthusiastically after crossing under the wire, then leaped from Hirapour with a flying dismount ? like Angel Cordero Jr. or Frankie Dettori ? after the winner's circle photos were taken.

"Going down the backside, he was struggling a little bit," McCarron said. "He's an amazing animal. He is so genuine. When you call on him, he digs in so deep and finds whatever it takes."

Fout, who trains Hirapour for Ken Luke's Eldon Farm, said Hirapour will be retired at the end of this year. His upcoming schedule includes the New York Turf Writers Handicap later this meet, followed by the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase and the Colonial Cup.

"We want to win the Eclipse," Fout said. "He's got three more races to get it done."