Hirapour, champion steeplechase horse of 2004, made his long-awaited jump return a winning one Thursday at Saratoga with a victory in the $79,500 A.P. Smithwick Memorial Stakes (NSA-II). It is likely his last racing season at the New York track.
Hirapour, a 10-year-old by Kahyasi -- Himaya, by Mouktar owned Eldon Farm, had not started since undergoing ankle surgery following a second-place finish in the Colonial Cup (NSA-I) last November.
Trainer Doug Fouts let out a heavy sigh in the winner's circle following the race. "He's just a special horse," he said. "It's tough when you have a horse of this caliber and the quality he has -- there's just so much expectation.
"I do all his works and all his gallops and his schooling," Fouts continued. "I cranked him a little harder for this race than I normally would because we have nothing to lose. At the end of the season, we're going to retire him."
The game plan for Hirapour would be to run in the New York Turf Writers Stakes at Saratoga, then the Breeders' Cup, and another run at the Colonial Cup, which he won during his championship season.
"We're chasing an Eclipse Award," Fouts said. "That's the whole idea, so he has three more races to get it done."
Hirapour covered the 2 1/16 miles in 3:42.26 and won by four lengths over Good Night Shirt. He paid $4 as the even-money favorite. It was 2 ½ lengths back to third-place finisher Mauritania.
The winner was ridden by Matthew McCarron, the nephew of Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron. "If he was 20 pounds lighter and 20 years younger, he'd break all my records," the elder McCarron joked in the winner's circle. Hirapour toted 158 pounds.
Matthew McCarron admitted the win didn't come easy. Coming back from a broken arm on the Opening Day of the 2005 Saratoga meet to guide Hirapour to victory in the New York Turf Writers' Cup (NSA-I), McCarron had to ride his mount a bit harder than usual to keep in contact with the front-runners, who were going at a strong pace for the two miles and a sixteenth.
"We had to let the front-runners go and they were going at a good clip," McCarron said. "Going down the backside, he was struggling a little bit. We were hoping they would come back, and they did. They got away from us again going around the far turn, but Good Night Shirt and my horse managed to wrangle them and go past them. He's an amazing animal. He is so genuine. When you call on him, he digs in so deep and finds whatever it takes. He's a great jumper."
Over jumps, Hirapour has now won 11 of 20 starts with five seconds and three thirds. The victory pushed his career earnings over the $600,000 mark. He was bred in Ireland by the Aga Khan.