MAY 16, 1983
Adominant personality is as much a hallmark of a great thoroughbred as speed or stamina. Some horses have to be first. Such was, and still very much is, the case with Sunny's Halo, a winner on the track who to this day insists on being first in the breeding shed. "When he recognized that somebody else was breeding a mare, he'd pin his ears back and speak a lot," says Billy Hanna, who is the majority owner of the stallion and stands him at stud at Double S Thoroughbred Farm in Bullard, Texas. "Sunny's a very strong-willed horse. He would let us know that he didn't like anybody else breeding before him. Now we let Sunny go first."
Nineteen years ago that same imperiousness helped carry the leggy Canadian-bred colt to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs. In a rainy Kentucky Derby the 5-2 shot stalked front-running Total Departure for the first three quarters of a mile, then took command down the backside before drawing off to win in sloppy conditions by two lengths. Hampered by a skin rash, he was unable to duplicate his Derby effort in the Preakness and finished sixth; he did not run in the Belmont. He was retired after his 3-year-old season with nine wins in 20 starts (three in Grade I stakes, including the Arkansas Derby) and more than $1.2 million in career earnings. He is the last horse to have been the feature subject on an SI cover.
Though Sunny's haughty demeanor has earned him priority status in the breeding shed, it hasn't helped him to consistently impart his talent to his offspring. Runners from his 16 crops of foals have earned more than $24 million on the track, and 33 have been stakes winners, but none has won a Triple Crown race. Thus the stud fee for Sunny's Halo is only $4,000 for a guaranteed live foal. "Sunny is somewhat of a hit-or-miss type stallion," Hanna says. "Obviously it has a lot to do with the mare, but he'll either throw you a real big horse, or he'll throw you a dud." Still, the 22-year-old has a full book of 97 mares this breeding season, which runs from Feb. 15 to July 15.
From his spot in the stallion barn Sunny's Halo enjoys a perfect position from which to observe the comings and goings at Double S. Likewise, anyone who visits can clearly see the only Kentucky Derby winner residing in the Lone Star state, easily distinguished by the broad blaze of white on his nose and the high white socks on his hind legs. "He throws that same whiteness to his babies, who are really pretty," says Hanna. "A lot of people say, 'Pretty is as pretty does,' but if you get a Sunny's Halo baby who enjoys what he's doing, then you've got your hands on a racehorse."