05/15/2002 11:00PM

United's Big Red ready for Carterista

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MIAMI - In his younger days, Unite's Big Red was the undisputed leader of the local turf division, a title he earned with victories in Gulfstream Park's Pan American and Mac Diarmida handicaps. Now at the age of 8, he will attempt to reassume the top spot in the division with a big performance in Saturday's $75,000 Carterista Handicap at Calder Race Course.

The 1 1/16-mile Carterista drew a full field of 12 and will be the final live event on the 13-race card that concludes with the simulcast of the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico.

Foot problems, which plagued Unite's Big Red throughout his career, finally forced owner-breeder Randy Mills to give his star an extended vacation after a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in February 2000. Sidelined 21 months, Unite's Big Red returned to action here last fall but did not regain his top form until finishing second, beaten a half-length, in the 2002 Mac Diarmida on Jan. 20. A victory in Gulfstream's Equalize Stakes two months later proved he was once again back on top of his game.

Unite's Big Red, who is currently trained for Mills by his former assistant Gary Cartolillo, prepped for the Carterista by finishing a troubled third behind Mr. Livingston in the Jackie Wackie Handicap here last month. With a clean trip and an extra sixteenth of a mile to work with in the Carterista, Unite's Big Red is capable of reversing that finish.

Mr. Livingston was a multiple stakes winner on grass here last season but his form tailed off a bit following back-to-back victories last fall in the Ensign Ray and Miami Breeders' Cup handicaps. A third-place finish in the Grade 2 Pan Am and subsequent easy triumph in the Jackie Wackie is evidence that he too is back on top of his game and strictly the one to beat in the Carterista.

The presence of Wertz and Tour of the Cat should assure an honest pace. Wertz brings a three-race win streak into the race, each of those victories coming wire to wire at Gulfstream Park. Tour of the Cat contested the pace before succumbing to Mr. Livingston in the Jackie Wackie and has now crossed the wire first or second in each of his last eight starts.