11/10/2001 1:00AM

Top Official trainer confident

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JAMAICA, N.Y. - The quest to determine this winter's top handicap horse in New York begins Monday when a full field of hard-trying older colts and geldings tangle in a nine-furlong money allowance on a nine-race Veterans Day card at Aqueduct.

Many in the 10-horse field have been given ample time off during the summer and early fall to be fresh for Aqueduct's handicap stakes during the upcoming winter and spring.

Top Official just missed in the Stuyvesant and Excelsior over this track at nine furlongs and has proven to be solid off the layoff. Top Official last raced on Aug. 19, when he was beaten

15 3/4 lengths by Aptitude in the Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap. That race came just 18 days after Top Official outdueled Ground Storm to win a money allowance race by a nose.

Trainer Leah Gyarmati knew she was taking a gamble by running him right back.

"He really needs four to six weeks between races, and I pushed him," said Gyarmati, who has seen Top Official - an October 1999 claim of $35,000 - churn out more than $235,000 the last two years. "It was barely three weeks to that race, and he ran hard. You can tell when you get on him, if he ran hard, that he needs a lot of recovery time. After that I sent him back to Belmont and turned him out in the pen."

Gyarmati had hoped to make the Stuyvesant with Top Official, but she said he wasn't quite ready by Oct. 27. On Nov. 5, Gyarmati breezed Top Official a mile in 1:45.20, his third consecutive mile breeze.

Top Official has a record of only 1-4-0 from eight starts over Aqueduct's main track. "He runs hard on any track. I've yet to see him not run hard on any track," Gyarmati said. "I'm very confident."

Boston Party returns to the dirt for the first time since April 28, when he finished third behind Cat's at Home and Top Official in the Excelsior Handicap. Since then, Boston Party has twice attempted the turf, running a decent fifth in the Manhattan and a dull sixth in the Bowling Green Handicap on July 7.

Laurie LaFavers, assistant to trainer Leonard Imperio, said the freshening has served Boston Party well, and she hopes this race gets him to the Dec. 1 Queens County Handicap, a race Boston Party won last year.

Judge's Case could be the one to catch under Edgar Prado. A 4-year-old son of Montbrook, he finished second behind Scottish Halo in an Oct. 1 allowance race. Scottish Halo returned to win the Empire Classic at Belmont last month.

* After running Monday, Aqueduct will be dark on Tuesday and Wednesday.