Eldon Farm's Hirapour, a 9-year-old Irish-bred gelding, drew off from Three Carat for a 3 ¾-length victory in the $159,200 New York Turf Writers Cup Steeplechase Handicap (NSA-I) at 2 3/8 miles over national fences at Saratoga Race Course Friday. The race was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but a storm forced it to be re-scheduled.The victory helped take the sting out of a difficult meet for trainer Doug Fout and Matt McCarron. Fout's father, Paul, the only person to train a filly steeplechase champion, died Aug. 16. McCarron broke his arm in an opening day spill and just recently returned to the saddle.The 6-5 favorite Hirapour, a son of Kahyasi, carried high weight of 158 pounds, spotting his eight rivals anywhere from four to 18 pounds. Having run third here in the A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga on Aug. 8, the 2004 champion steeplechaser dug in over the yielding course and posted this 15th win of his 36-race career in 4:24 4/5. The winner's purse of $95,520 boosted his career earnings to $581,426.Thirty years ago, Fout's father saddled Life's Illusion to victory in this race in 1975."I can't explain how much it means to me," Fout said. "The horse got hurt in the A.P. Smithwick and things didn't go his way. I don't want to give a lot of excuses, but it wasn't our day. Then, I lost my Dad in this meet. With this horse coming back and doing what he did, and with my father winning this race in 1975, it means a lot."European import Say What You See expectedly took the lead early. While he maintained the lead on the flat, he continued to lose ground over the jumps as 2003 NYTW Cup winner Praise the Prince pressed. Mauritania and Paradise's Boss also figured in the mix, but as they entered the final turn, McCarron and Hirapour rallied.Three Carat took the lead heading into the final fence, but Hirapour out-sprinted his foe to the wire.
"We expected a lot more speed," Fout said. "But the ground was a little more yielding than we thought. We had to play catch up and move sooner. I've been riding the horse for the past three days and I knew he could get there. If he were close at the last fence, they would have to run with him."For McCarron, the son of former jockey and television analyst Greg McCarron and the nephew of Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, the victory made his season. "It is certainly a fairy tale ending, that's for sure," McCarron said. "It looked to be a bleak and kind of washed-up meet. I rode a true champion today. He didn't like the ground; it was too soft for him. The 158 pounds got to him. It was all heart that got him past the wire in front. He gave it all."Party Airs, Understood, Paradise's Boss, Mulahen, Praise the Prince and Mauritania completed the order of finish. Say What You See left the course. (Chart, Equibase)