04/24/2002 12:00AM

Flat Top back for Royal Chase

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - It's not a Keeneland tradition with as deep a history as, say, tweed jackets with elbow patches or corned beef sandwiches with mustard. But this will be the fifth year that horse races with hurdles have been run on the final day of the Keeneland spring meet.

Flat Top is one of the more recognizable names among a field of eight in the $175,000, Grade 1 Royal Chase for the Sport of Kings, a 2 1/2-mile steeplechase carded as the seventh of 10 races on closing day.

Although Flat Top, a 9-year-old gelding, has not raced in two years, it should be noted that training methods for these marathons differ to such a degree that recency in sanctioned racing tends to be less important than on the flat.

Flat Top, who won the Royal Chase two years ago, is trained by Janet Elliot, one of a handful of revered steeplechase trainers with a starter in the Royal Chase. Others are Tommy Voss, who sends out Quel Senor, winner of the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase at Far Hills last October; Bruce Miller, who will saddle Turkish Corner; and Jonathan Sheppard, a longtime Hall of Famer represented by It's a Giggle.

Beside the Royal Chase, a $40,000 steeplechase for allowance horses is carded as the final race of the day. As further enticement to the closing-day crowd, renowned racing mystery author Dick Francis will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. to sign his latest novel, "Shattered."