At Cross's suggestion, they eventually sent Mostly Sunny to Halo, a good grass-running distance horse of a few years ago. "Queen Elizabeth sent a mare to him that year, too," Foster says. "If he was good enough for her, he was good enough for us." So, in February of 1980 Mostly Sunny foaled the chestnut with the high, bold-going action in front. Cross liked Sunny's Halo right off and last spring decided to devote all his time to him. After spending years hacking about with claimers, he thought this was the colt he had been waiting for. Like mother, like son. "I liked his determination, his will, his desire." Cross says.
And his way of moving, the way he carried himself and his ability to run. Sunny's Halo broke his maiden in his first start at Woodbine in Canada, winning by a head. He finished second in two stakes and then crushed nine other babies in the Colin Stakes, winning by 10. Emboldened, Cross hit the road for New York, where his horse finished third last July in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park, and then to the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, where Sunny's Halo wrenched an ankle, ending up fifth, beaten by 7½. In treating the ankle, Cross paid too little mind to small stress fractures on the colt's left shin, a common sort of injury among 2-year-olds.
"They flat got away from me," he says, it was my own fault." Not that they stopped Sunny's Halo from whipping the colts back in Canada. He wore gauze bandages painted with latex for support and flexibility and crushed the best 2-year-olds in Canada in three stakes at Woodbine—the Swynford by 7¼, the Grey by 6½ and the Coronation Futurity by 7½. "He beat nothing in Canada," Cross says. "Absolutely nothing."
Despite Sunny's Halo's sore leg, and with earnings for the year already at $235,829, Cross shipped the colt across the border again. He promptly got buried twice. In the Laurel Futurity on Oct. 23, he finished ninth, beaten 16 lengths, and 12 days later took a bath in the Young America at The Meadowlands, finishing sixth. Why did Cross run a sore horse in either spot? "The greed got to me," he says. "We've all got it."
Cross got over it in time. He shipped the colt to California last winter, for R&R, and that's where he began serious therapy to undo whatever damage had been done. To take pressure off the sore shin but keep the colt working, he alternately exercised Sunny's Halo in the swimming pool at Hollywood Park and galloped him on the course's half-mile training track. Although California was cursed with bad winter weather, from his arrival at Hollywood on Jan. 7 Sunny's Halo never missed a day of work.
"Everything was beautiful there," says Cross. "Swim three or four days, gallop a couple of days, swim three or four more, gallop a couple more. You can't swim him every day because you're building muscle you don't use racing."
All the while Cross was aiming for the Kentucky Derby, sort of swimming Sunny's Halo up to it. It was always orthodoxy be damned. The stress fractures were almost healed in January, Cross says, and by March, he figured, they had healed completely. It was time now for him to make a move. On March 18 he shipped Sunny's Halo to Arkansas, with two races leading to Kentucky in mind—the Rebel Handicap at a mile and 70 yards on March 26 and the 1⅛-mile Arkansas Derby three weeks later.
Cross ignored prevailing wisdom on two counts. No horse had ever won the Derby after traveling through Arkansas, and none in recent memory had won it off only two prep races. "I went to Arkansas because I love Arkansas," Cross says. "Oaklawn Park's a good, deep, soft racetrack—a nice, safe racetrack. I did it for the horse. I knew he was fit when he came out of California. I've gotten criticized here because all these trainers have run all over the place to get money to qualify to run here, and I had just two stakes in Arkansas. But that was my plan since January."
Sunny's Halo won the Rebel by three. "Like taking candy from a kid," Cross says. In the Arkansas Derby, Jockey Eddie Delahoussaye raced to the front and hit the cruise control. While the colt never completely relaxed, he won by four in racehorse time. It was on to Churchill Downs. Sunny's Halo worked splendidly for the Derby, and in the week before the race he looked the part of a favorite. He shone like a new shoe, but he moved without a squeak—a tall, powerful animal whose every move seemed against the bit.
Sunny's Halo had become Cross's grand passion. By Derby week, the colt was one of only three horses remaining in Cross's care. The second was a $20,000 claimer, the third an unraced 2-year-old.