08/22/2005 11:00PM

Big guy gets Valenzuela again

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The best horse in the barn of most trainers is euphemistically referred as the big horse, but at Laura de Seroux's barn, it has a more literal translation.

The big horse in the de Seroux barn isn't the best horse, but he is, in fact, big. , an imposing 5-year-old son of Mr. Greeley, stands some 17-1 hands, and has to tip the scale at well over 1,200 pounds. He is by a sprint sire, and is a half-brother to the champion sprinter Orientate, but nothing about him says six furlongs.

Instead, Johnny Red Kerr has found his niche running long on the turf. It took him eight starts finally to win a maiden race, which he did in his last start, on July 7 at Hollywood Park. He will seek his second straight victory as he attempts to ascend the class ladder in Thursday's feature race at Del Mar, a $63,000 grass race at 1 3/8 miles for first-level allowance runners and $40,000 claimers.

Johnny Red Kerr is named for the three-time National Basketball Association all-star who also was the NBA coach of the year in 1967 with the Chicago Bulls. He is owned in part by Chicago resident Sid Port, part of a partnership that purchased Johnny Red Kerr as a yearling for $1.4 million.

Because of his size, Johnny Red Kerr has had several setbacks in his career, including ankle surgery last fall. But he has run well in all three starts since returning in May from an eight-month layoff. He was second twice against maidens at Hollywood Park before his victory. He was ridden for the first time by Patrick Valenzuela in his last start, and Valenzuela is back aboard on Thursday.

"Patrick seems to suit him," de Seroux said at her Del Mar barn Tuesday morning. "The horse has learned not to drop so far back, which I think has come with racing experience, and Patrick puts him more on the bridle."

De Seroux shipped Johnny Red Kerr to Arlington Park earlier this month for a race on the Arlington Million undercard, but she scratched the colt because the course was not firm after recent rain.

Much Faster was third in a similar first-level allowance last time, wearing blinkers for the first time.

"The blinkers helped," said Humberto Ascanio, who supervises trainer Bobby Frankel's West Coast string. "They put him more in the race." Much Faster is coupled in the wagering with Made in Brasil; both Brazilian-bred colts are owned by TNT Stud.

Private Chef, a former stakes winner, is in for the $40,000 claiming price after a good, though troubled, effort against $50,000 claimers last time out.