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The stakes were the highest that Cross had ever played for. Foster had promised him 10% of Sunny's Halo—not just 10% of his earnings on the track, a trainer's standard fee, but also on his sale as a breeding stallion. No victory has a greater impact on the value of a stallion than the Kentucky Derby.
This arrangement, like all others between the two men, was sealed by a handshake. "He'll wind up with 10% of anything I've got," Foster says. "I've committed myself. We have nothing in writing, but he's safe. I know a lot of people have changed their minds when they've seen big money, but I wouldn't do that to him."
"Sure it's a gamble," Cross said on the morning of Derby Day. "But life's a gamble. How can I ask for anything better? I can't stay away from a horse like this. I've got to devote all my time, everything, to him. What else can you do? You just don't leave something like this alone. The longest I've been away from him in 14 months is four days. I'm at the point now where, if something happened to him, I would have to start back over again. I've put all my eggs in one basket."
Twenty horses, the maximum allowable in the Derby, came to the post, and the crowd of 134,444 sent off the three-horse entry of Marfa, Total Departure and Balboa Native as the $2.40-$1 favorite, with Sunny's Halo second choice at $2.50-$1. It had been sunny most of the day, but a downpour struck as the Derby horses were walking from the stable to the paddock, leaving the course sloppy but fast. Cross's only concern was whether Delahoussaye could get his colt to relax, whether Sunny's Halo was too sharp.
He wasn't. Total Departure raced to the lead out of the gate, with Sunny's Halo lapped on him through the stretch the first time and into the clubhouse turn. Desert Wine and Chris McCarron raced next to Sunny's Halo. Delahoussaye sat still around the turn and into the back-stretch. "My colt relaxed so good around the turn, I thought, 'I'm on my way,' " Delahoussaye said later. "He was a little more relaxed today than he was in the Arkansas Derby."
And he wasn't hard-pressed early. The clocking for the opening quarter was 23[4/5] seconds, moderate time; the half-mile was 47[1/5], picking up the pace. Down the backside, Sunny's Halo passed Total Departure, who would fade to finish dead last. Desert Wine stalked Sunny's Halo toward the bend. Going around it, Desert Wine moved to within a head-bobbing nose of him, and then took a short lead. Neither rider had asked for reserves. "I said to myself, 'I know I have a horse left,' " Delahoussaye said. "I don't want to try him yet. I knew I had a lot left."
He had enough. The two colts turned for home at each other's throat. The bulky field and the moderate fractions weren't working for the stretch-runners—Marfa, Caveat, Play Fellow and Slew O' Gold—but the two front-runners made it a horse race through the stretch to the eighth pole. There Delahoussaye went to the whip and Sunny's Halo dug in, edging away from a game Desert Wine. He drew off in the last 200 yards to win by two, finishing the mile-and-a-quarter in 2:02[1/5], respectable time. Caveat, the Derby Trial winner, passed wet sails to finish third.
"Ain't nothing to it," Delahoussaye said. It was his second straight Kentucky Derby victory—he was up last year on Gato Del Sol—making him the first rider since Ron Turcotte (Riva Ridge, 1972 and Secretariat, 1973) to win two in a row. "Now I know how Ronnie felt," he said. "I'm in good company."
Good things come in bunches, and Cross's wife, Patty, is one of the bunch. Two days before the Rebel Handicap, she bet $200 to win on Sunny's Halo in the Kentucky Derby in the Las Vegas winter book at 100 to 1, giving her a $20,200 payday of her own. "She's got to go to Las Vegas to collect it, so she probably won't have it when she gets back," said David.
But it was David Cross who had staked his livelihood. "Hooray for California, Canada and Arkansas!" he said. And here's to carrots at Christmastime.