11/30/2004 12:00AM

United could develop into Dogwood's next star

United, with Tony Black up, won his first stakes two weeks ago in the Pennsylvania Nursery.

If this year's Pennsylvania Nursery winner turns out to be as good as last year's, Dogwood Stable will have a lot to smile about come the first Saturday in May. The Dogwood syndicate's United won the Nursery by 5 1/2 lengths last month at Philadelphia Park, one year after Smarty Jones stormed to a 15-length win in the race, which preceded his victories in this year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

"Smarty blew 'em out a little bit better than we did, but we still did all right," said Cot Campbell, president of Dogwood.

United will get his first shot at a $1 million race on Saturday, when he starts in the Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs. The 1 1/16-mile race is the second richest 2-year-old offering in North America behind the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and it will draw a full field of 10.

Others expected for the race are Accurate, Anthony J., Cherokee Path, Closing Argument, Funk, Leaving on My Mind, Major League, My Parade, and Texcess.

United is one of the most experienced members of the field, and has kept good company while racing at seven different tracks. United is also one of Dogwood's most promising colts this season. The 35-year-old syndicate has raced five millionaires, including Summer Squall, who won the Preakness in 1990, and champion Storm Song.

"This horse has been very consistent for us," said Campbell. "He has the ingredients to be a classics contender if he improves, and his last race was his best."

United put blinkers back on for the $55,000 Pennsylvania Nursery, and led throughout to win the seven-furlong statebred race in his last start Nov. 20.

"The way he won was impressive," said George Weaver, who trains United. "He's always acted like he's had ability from the very beginning."

United started his career in New York, and won his maiden over seven furlongs at Saratoga on Aug. 14. One race later, he made his two-turn and turf debut and ran second by a neck to eventual Grade 2 winner Dubleo in the $55,000 Continental Mile at Monmouth Park on Sept. 5.

"One of the reasons he's run quite a few different places is that we wanted to run on the grass with him," said Weaver. "This horse looks like he's equal on both surfaces."

United moved back to dirt for the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park and finished fourth to Greater Good.

"He didn't really particularly care for the track that day," said Weaver. "As it turned out, the horse that won is a pretty good horse. He just won the Kentucky Jockey Club."

United returned to turf for his next two starts, with his best finish a second-place effort in the $55,000 World Appeal at The Meadowlands on Oct. 1. He then moved back to dirt and won his first career stakes in the Nursery.

United was flown from New York to Kentucky on Monday. He was scheduled to spend a few days training with Weaver there before flying into Houston on Thursday and vanning into Delta. Gerard Melancon has the mount on Saturday.

"He's one of very few horses I would opt to run back in two weeks," said Weaver. "This particular horse, he's very hearty. When you want to give him [more] days off after a big effort, he just tears the barn down wanting to go back to the track. He loves to train."

Campbell purchased United, a son of Dixie Union, for $150,000 in Florida in February.

"He's typical of the kind of horse I like to buy," said Campbell. "A good pedigree, but in the price range that I want to buy, from $75,000 to $200,000. He was one of the first horses we gave to George."

Weaver, 33, is a former assistant to Todd Pletcher, one of the nation's leading trainers. United has been a productive 2-year-old for him, and after the Jackpot the horse is scheduled to get some rest. He will be turned out for 45 days near Miami. Campbell said the goal is to have United ready to run again in March.

United's ownership group includes Paul Oreffice, Margaret Smith, John Farrell, and Maurice Covey. He is one of 66 stakes winners raced by Dogwood, which has offices and a training center in Aiken, S.C., but is no stranger to Delta. Campbell, who was born in New Orleans, said the group has raced a few horses at the track in the past few years. But its most memorable start at Delta could come Saturday.

"We're looking forward to it," said Campbell.