10/19/2005 11:00PM

First turf win is in sight for United

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United is a two-time stakes winner on dirt and winless in six starts on grass. Contrary to that evidence, trainer George Weaver thinks turf is United's preferred surface.

"He acts like a dirt horse in the morning, but I think he's a better runner on grass," Weaver said. "He hasn't won a race on the surface yet, but he has run well behind some tough turf horses, like English Channel and Purim."

United finished second to English Channel, a contender in the Breeders' Cup Turf, in the Woodlawn at Pimlico last spring and was runner-up to Purim in the Grade 3 Arlington Classic in July.

Weaver will find out if his hunch about United's abilities on grass is correct when United faces 13 other 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles in Saturday's $85,000 Japan Racing Association Stakes at Laurel Park.

United will race without blinkers and switch surfaces after flashing early speed and stopping badly as the 12th-place finisher in the 14-horse Pennsylvania Derby, a Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile dirt race on Labor Day.

"The competition and distance may have been a little tough for him," Weaver said. "He's a very athletic horse, and I don't see any problem with him going two turns on turf."

The lukewarm favorite is expected to be Spring House, whose turf credentials include second-place finishes in the Jersey Derby at Monmouth and the Grade 3 Kent Breeders' Cup at Delaware. He was disqualified and placed third in the Kent for bearing out.

Other contenders include the Todd Pletcher-trained Westmoreland, a son of three-time turf graded stakes winner Pico Teneriffe who is making his stakes debut; Sly One, winner of 3 of his last 4 races; and Fiscal Storm, who has several close finishes with good Beyer Speed Figures against quality runners in New York.

Charles Town

Rainbow Inthestorm, an easy winner in wire-to-wire fashion of his last two starts, looks like a standout in the $50,000 Tri-State Futurity at Charles Town.

The two-turn seven-furlong race is restricted to 2-year-olds foaled in Maryland, Virginia, or West Virginia.

Rainbow Inthestorm, coupled with the maiden Demi Is Smooth for trainer Dale Capuano, has steadily raised his Beyer Speed Figures from 53 in his career debut to 73 in his fourth start, a 2 3/4-length win over first-level allowance runners at Delaware Park.

If Rainbow Inthestorm doesn't take to the track or has trouble handling two turns, Standing for Peace or Binn Waiting are the most likely upsetters.

Standing for Peace won his maiden going 6 1/2 furlongs at Charles Town three starts ago and defeated nine other 2-year-olds in a 4 1/2-furlong stakes on West Virginia Breeders Classics night two weeks ago.

Binn Waiting has raced around two turns twice at Charles Town, including a fourth in the Vincent Moscarelli Breeders Classic. He's eligible to improve making his second start on Lasix.

Finger Lakes

In his bid to capture the Finger Lakes Juvenile for the third consecutive year, trainer Anthony Ferraro will send out a fast filly against colts in the six-furlong stakes worth $50,000.

Fly to Me, most recently second in the Joseph Gimma Stakes at Belmont Park, appears capable of beating males in this spot. Two starts ago, Fly to Me took on colts for the first time in the New York Breeders' Futurity at Finger Lakes and proved competitive, finishing second to Classic Pack.

Ferraro won last year's Juvenile with Boston Raider and the 2003 running with Mr. Fixed Income.

Secret Brook, the only other filly in the eight-horse field, could be the toughest competition for Fly to Me. In her career debut at Saratoga, Secret Brook cruised to a 12-length victory with a 75 Beyer Speed Figure. Claimed out of that race for $65,000, Secret Brook finished fifth in an allowance at Woodbine in her only other start. She has since had two sharp workouts at Finger Lakes to get accustomed to the surface.

Among the males, Imperial Zip has been the fastest by far. But after six starts, he remains a maiden, having finished second four times, including in each of his last three races.