Flashing brilliance at Saratoga Race Course's Open House on the flat, Hirapour served notice that he had returned. Owned by Eldon Farm, the 10-year-old gelding takes on seven rivals in Thursday's $75,000-added A.P. Smithwick Memorial (NSA-II) in his first start over jumps since November 2005.Hirapour had ankle surgery after the Colonial Cup (NSA-I) and has been on the road to recovery over the last eight months, waiting to add to the $628,426 already in his bank account. The 2004 Eclipse Award winner has little left to prove, but plans call for two starts at Saratoga this summer, and then autumn runs in the Breeders' Cup and Colonial Cup (both NSA-I)."We're going to retire him after this year," said trainer Doug Fout. "No matter what, and we're chasing the Eclipse Award. He's 10 years old, and the horse doesn't owe anything to anybody."In his last 10 starts, Hirapour has never missed the board. His most recent victory was at Saratoga in last summer's New York Turf Writers' Cup (NSA-I). Regular jockey Matt McCarron had only just returned to the saddle after breaking his collarbone in the first week of the meet. McCarron and Hirapour have history together, winning the National Steeplechase Association's Jockey and Horse of the Year titles in 2004.Beaten in the A.P. Smithwick last year by Paradise's Boss and Party Airs, Fout thinks he's got Hirapour's winning formula."He came up short in the Smithwick last year, and I think he's a little farther along this year," said Fout. "He had a little bit of a foot problem coming into the race last year, and I haven't had that this year."At 158 pounds, Hirapour carries eight more pounds than his nearest rivals, Erin Go Bragh and Good Night Shirt. Brigadoon Stable's Erin Go Bragh is also trained by Fout, with Danielle Hodsdon getting the nod. The New Zealand import ran a steady third in his most-recent start, a three-mile race in Nashville. He last won in October 2005, but prepped at the Open House by finishing fourth, and is not coupled with Hirapour for pari-mutuel wagering.Good Night Shirt, despite being only five years old, has the hottest form in the race, as he's the only horse coming off a win over jumps. Under Xavier Aizpuru, he put in a gallant effort last month at Colonial Downs to win the Zeke Ferguson (NSA-III) for trainer Jack Fisher and owner Sonny Via.
Rounding out the field are Mark the Shark, Mauritania, Sound Blaster, Malagash, and Toughkenamon.
PP. Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Weight:1. Malagash, Thomas Voss, Cyril Murphy, 142
2. Mark the Shark, Jack Fisher,Willy Dowling, 146
3. Good Night Shirt, Jack Fisher, Xaiver Aizpuru, 150
4. Hirapour, Paul Fout, Matt McCarron, 158
5. Toughkenamon, Katherina McKenna, Robbie Walsh, 142
6. Erin Go Bragh, Paul Fout, Danielle Hodsdon, 150
7. Sound Blaster, F. Bruce Miller, Chip Miller, 146
8. Mauritania, Richard Valentine, Robert Massey, 146*Mauritania will race with blinkers.