08/06/2005 12:00AM

Smithwick tough spot for Hirapour


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - , last year's Eclipse Award-winning steeplechase horse, is the one to beat in Monday's $75,000 A.P. Smithwick Memorial, but there are several reasons he may be worth playing against.

Hirapour, who won the Grade 1 Royal Chase Handicap at Keeneland in April, will be spotting weight to a solid group in the Smithwick, which was moved from Thursday to Monday to coincide with the induction of three steeplechase legends into racing's Hall of Fame.

Trainer Doug Fout said he is not as concerned about the 158 pounds Hirapour must carry as he is the 2 1/16 miles of the Smithwick. Fout says Hirapour needs this race to get to the New York Turf Writers Handicap at 2 3/8 miles on Aug. 31. Also, an injury to regular rider Matt McCarron has forced Fout to name Chip Miller on Hirapour.

"If Matt was on him I'd be a lot more comfortable, because Matt knows the horse best," Fout said. "Chip is very good, he's a veteran rider, and I think he's the next best person. Our biggest thing with him is we need a lot of speed in the race; we have to wait with him. There's plenty of speed, which is good."

The primary speed horse in the field is , part of an uncoupled Tom Voss-trained entry along with Serazzo. Party Airs ended a five-race losing streak with a 30-length victory in the Flatterer Handicap at Philadelphia Park on July 23.

Voss changed bits on Party Airs before that race after he showed a tendency to bear out last year.

"We tried a hundred different bits on him and found one that pretty much got him under control," Voss said. "He just sort of freaked in that race. He was just as fast at the end as he was at the beginning."

Serazzo won a second-level allowance race by seven lengths here last year. He has not jumped since, as he suffered a fractured splint bone that was surgically removed. Serazzo finished second in a flat race at Colonial Downs on July 3 and was second to Hirapour in a flat race on open-house day here July 24.

Praise the Prince has lost his last five races, but only one of those came in a steeplechase. He won the 2003 New York Turf Writers Cup and last year's A.P. Smithwick.