Anne M. Eberhardt

2004 Eclipse Steeplechaser: Hirapour

Stand and deliver. That's what Hirapour needed to do to have a chance at the 2004 steeplechase Eclipse Award. He starred in the spring, skipped the summer, and lost a tight Breeders' Cup Steeplechase (NSA-I) decision to McDynamo in October.

A month later the Irish-bred faced McDynamo and five others in the season-ending Marion du Pont Scott Colonial Cup (NSA-I). An Eclipse Award hung in the balance. Hirapour stood tall, and delivered on time.

Driving from off the pace in the 2 3/4-mile test over 17 fences, Hirapour passed three horses in the stretch to score a convincing, championship clinching victory. Behind him came fellow finalists Preemptive Strike and McDynamo, plus the year's leading earner Sur La Tete.

Owned by Eldon Farm and trained in Virginia by Doug Fout, Hirapour ran four times in 2004--winning two of the three most important American steeplechases (the $159,375 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings Hurdle, NSA-I, at Keeneland in April and the $100,000 Colonial Cup) and finishing second twice. His earnings for the year, $199,625, were topped only by Sur La Tete (a foe he defeated twice).

Determination marked both of Hirapour's victories.

At Keeneland, he rallied four wide on the final turn to reach the lead. Though caught, Preemptive Strike battled back in deep stretch only to be met by a resurgent Hirapour who scored by 1 3/4 lengths as the 6-5 favorite. In the Colonial Cup, Preemptive Strike built a huge lead and was still in front on the final turn. Saving ground on the inside, Hirapour outran fellow closers McDynamo and Sur La Tete to get to the leader--then summoned the necessary courage to pass him after the last fence while setting a course record of 5:04.6.

Put in perspective, the Colonial Cup was first run in 1970 and has been won by 14 champions. Hirapour deserves high marks in a great race.

"He's one of the hardest-trying horses in this game," said jockey Matt McCarron. "He did everything right (in the Colonial Cup). He jumped the fences perfectly, he waited for the right time, and when I called on him he gave me absolutely one thousand percent. He just wore that other horse down and was absolutely legless exhausted when he pulled up."

Bred in Ireland by the Aga Khan's Studs, Hirapour sold for 150,000 guineas at Tattersalls as a 3-year-old, won four races, and was trained by various trainers on the flat. When the flat career reached a ceiling, the horse went to Tattersalls again, this time bringing 12,000 guineas in 2002 and was converted to hurdling. The son of Kahyasi won five in a row for trainer Ian Williams, and was sold to Fout and Eldon in 2003. Fout, who's gone to Europe, South America, and New Zealand to purchase steeplechase horses, liked what he saw.

"The first thing I liked about him was his eye and his head. He just had a presence about him," said Fout.

Later, the horse really won over his trainer.

"He's a kind, sweet horse but when he's out on the track, he's a bear," said Fout. "He is one of the toughest horses I've ever had to gallop...He got tougher and tougher, but a good tough. It's the right tough; it's not mean. He wants to get his job done."

Especially when he needs to.