01/28/2003 12:00AM

Flat Top recaptures his old title

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Repeat winners are not uncommon in the Eclipse Award for outstanding steeplechaser.

Zaccio and Flatterer combined for seven titles in the 1980's, and Lonesome Glory alone won five titles in the 1990's.

None of them battled back from the adversity faced by Flat Top, who won the title in 1998 and again in 2002.

In between his championship seasons, Flat Top fought through injuries to a splint bone, a tendon and a suspensory. The injuries were severe enough that Flat Top did not start in 1999 and 2001.

Through the guidance of trainer Janet Elliot, Flat Top returned for an outstanding campaign in 2002. The 9-year-old Flat Top won 2 of 5 starts, scoring victories in two of the sport's most important races - the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase at Far Hills, N.J., and the Colonial Cup at Camden, South Carolina. The wins were enough for voters to choose Flat Top over It's a Giggle, who was euthanized in December after a bout with colic, and the promising novice McDynamo.

"I would have never had dreamed I would have a horse that would win an Eclipse Award," owner Nancy Gerry said during her acceptance speech. "Now, that wonderful animal has done it again. It's an excitement and an honor that I cannot describe."

Flat Top was never worse than third in 2002. He finished third in his first three starts. He was well beaten by It's a Giggle in the Royal Chase at Keeneland in April, but was more competitive when third in the three-mile Iroquois Stakes in early May.

Flat Top had the rest of the spring and most of the summer off, returning in the New York Turf Writers Handicap at Saratoga on Aug. 29, where he finished third at 17-1.

He has not lost since. In the Breeders' Cup, over 2 5/8 miles, he took the lead from the start and stormed through the uphill stretch at Far Hills to prevail by three lengths. In the Colonial Cup, over 2 3/4 miles, he was challenged throughout, but pulled clear after the last fence to win by 6 1/4 lengths.

A son of Alleged bred in Kentucky by Landon Knight Stables, Flat Top finished the year with earnings of $237,831, the highest of the year among American steeplechasers. His career earnings of $593,806 leave him fourth on the all-time earnings list for steeplechasers.

During her speech, Gerry thanked Elliot and jockey Robert Massey.

Reflecting on the season, she paid further tribute to Elliot.

"The year is all down to that terrific trainer," Gerry said later. "This has been fantastic, especially after he was laid up for two years."

Flat Top is currently at Elliot's stable in Pennsylvania and will race this year.