10/19/2002 12:00AM

Flat Top wins BC Steeplechase

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Flat Top, who had finished third in all three of his starts this season after returning from a two-year layoff, led all of the way to win Saturday's $250,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase by three lengths at the Far Hills races in New Jersey.

The win was the second in the BC Steeplechase for the 9-year-old Flat Top, who also won the race in 1998 en route to being voted an Eclipse Award that year as the top Steeplechase horse in North America. Although there was no wagering on the six-race Far Hills program, Flat Top's victory must be viewed as a major upset, as he had been unable to recapture his old form in three starts this year.

Flat Top went right to the lead under jockey Robert Massey in the 2 5/8-mile BC Steeplechase and was never seriously challenged while holding off Tres Touche, who tracked him throughout. It was three-quarters of a length farther back to All Gong, the 2000 BC Steeplecahse and Eclipse Award winner, in third.

Zabenz, the Australian runner who won the New York Turf Writers Handicap at Saratoga in August, raced in sixth position early but fell while going over the 13th fence. Quel Senor, who won last year's BC Steeplechase, stalked the early pace but tired after 2 1/4 miles and was pulled up.

Flat Top, who is trained by Janet Elliot, was timed in 5:19.40 over the soft course.

Flat Top was voted the Eclipse award in 1998 after winning three of his five starts on the year. He returned from a 17-month layoff to win the 2000 Royal Chase at Keeneland, then did not start again until this year's Royal Chase, in which he finished third, beaten 24 lengths. In his other two starts this year, Flat Top was third, beaten five lengths, in the May 11 Iroquois, and third once again, beaten 12 lengths, in the New York Turf Writers Handicap.