07/17/2003 12:00AM

Boston Fox, Dare to Be Great try to continue local success

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EAST BOSTON, Mass. - The strongest division of horses in New England gets showcased Saturday when 12 3-year-olds meet in the $35,000 Suffolk Downs Derby.

The combination of talented youngsters coming from tougher circuits this spring and several late-bloomers have created one of the strongest local 3-year-old crops in several years. Five in the one mile and 70-yard race come off wins over the track, and they will face two tough shippers.

Boston Fox, who came here from Florida earlier in the meet, has won two straight races here following a second in his initial Suffolk race. Boston Fox is another potential star for his owner, Francis McDonnell, who has owned several regional champs. Boston Fox, trained by George Handy, will be ridden by leading jockey Joe Hampshire.

Dare to Be Great won his last race, and has scored in his last two dirt starts, with a turf flop in between. Like Boston Fox, he raced elsewhere before emerging at this meet, having finished third and fifth in two statebred races in New York this spring. Dare to Be Great drew post 12.

"The post is so bad it almost makes me think about scratching," trainer Karl Grusmark said. "I won't because he's come out of his last two races in very good order. I think he fits in with anybody around here and he's beaten his last two fields impressively."

Strike 'n Go, runner-up in the Rudy Baez Stakes here in March, is 4 for 8 at Suffolk. He puts a two-race win streak on the line, with his last victory coming despite a rough trip in only his second two-turn race. He is trained by Bobby Raymond and will be ridden by Jill Jellison.

Seattle Surprise returns to Suffolk for the Suffolk Derby. He won the Rudy Baez Stakes, then ran sixth in the Federico Tesio at Pimlico. After nine weeks on the sidelines for trainer Steve Jerkens, he tired in a fifth-place finish on grass at Belmont.

Cheverly Gold will complete a coast-to-coast career trek, having debuted at Del Mar last year and raced his way to the Mid-Atlantic and now New England. He was claimed by owner John D. Murphy and trainer Mike Gorham at Monmouth July 2. Gorham is 3 for 4 at Suffolk - his former home track - this meet.

Tribute to Seabiscuit

"Seabiscuit" fever sweeps into Boston Tuesday when Suffolk will commemorate the 1937 Massachusetts Handicap winner with the dedication of a bronze plaque and marker in advance of the motion picture's release next Friday.

The legendary horse raced at Suffolk eight times and was spotted by trainer Tom Smith in the paddock here prior to a start in a modest allowance race in July 1936. Smith persuaded owner Charles Howard to purchase Seabiscuit and the horse went on to wider fame from there. The plaque will mark the spot Smith supposedly made the observation.

Much of Seabiscuit's Suffolk history was recounted in Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book, but none of it made it into the film.