05/31/2004 11:00PM

Second career for Serazzo

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Hirapour's absence from Thursday's $100,000-added Meadow Brook Steeplechase at Belmont Park is especially good news for the connections of the remaining horses in the field.

Hirapour, a Grade 1 winner in open company, would have been the heavy favorite to win the 2 1/2-mile Meadow Brook for novice jumpers, but a respiratory illness will keep him in his barn.

The Grade 1 Meadow Brook, which features 12 jumps, will be run as the first race on the card. On-and-off rain is in the two-day forecast and a less-than-firm turf course is possible.

The top contenders in the 10-horse field are Sur La Tete and Serazzo, both of whom have won over rain-softened and firm courses.

The Meadow Brook is the third leg of the steeplechase triple crown and was preceded by the Georgia Cup in Atlanta on April 10 and the National Hunt Cup in Pennsylvania on May 15. Previously, the triple crown consisted of races run at Churchill Downs, Pimlico, and Belmont, but Churchill and Pimlico dropped out this year.

Sur La Tete blew away his nine rivals in the Georgia Cup and won the two-mile race by 10 3/4 lengths. Racey Dreamer, who won the National Hunt Cup, will sit out the Meadow Brook in favor of a Saratoga campaign.

Serazzo, who raced on the flat for trainer John Kimmel until June 2003, finished second to Racey Dreamer in the National Hunt Cup. Serazzo, a full brother to Grade 1 flat winner You and I, is trained by Tom Voss.

Martin Cherry, Serazzo's owner, said he wanted to give the 8-year-old horse a chance at another career.

"The horse had reached his level," Cherry said. "He had gone through all of his conditions, he had run in the Maker's Mark Mile and some of the other big races, and he was just a little short of those horses. I got tired of seeing him take a beating."

Serrazo immediately took to the jumps and won his first two starts over hurdles last fall.

A horse capable of capitalizing on his late run if the pace is fast is Cherokeeinthehills, who finished fifth in the National Hunt Cup and second in the Georgia Cup.

Mauritania, who would need to step up with a big effort here to beat Sur La Tete and Serazzo, is the likely pacesetter. Naughty Prince, who fell at the first fence in the National Hunt Cup, has a history of leaving the course in his races.