Look Back: Sunny's Halo in the 1983 Rebel
Photo: BloodHorse Library
Sunny's Halo wins the 1983 Arkansas Derby

In conjunction with Tom Hall's Throwback Thursday features in BloodHorse Daily, BloodHorse.com each Thursday will present corresponding race stories from the pages of the magazine. 

This week is a recap of the 1983 Rebel Handicap (now the Rebel Stakes) won by Sunny's Halo. Following is a recap written by Eddie Donnally that appeared in the April 2, 1983 magazine.

“What goes around comes around,” goes the backsiders lament.

In 1965, when Canadian trainer David Cross raced at Oaklawn Park he was denied stalls and forced to stable at a nearby farm. This winter, he arrived with the Canadian-bred Sunny’s Halo which won last year’s Sovereign Award and was highweight at 126 on the Canadian Free Handicap; he was stabled in one of the track’s newest barns. Then, after the blaze-faced son of Halo—Mostly Sunny, by Sunny, won the $100,000 Rebel Handicap on March 26, Oaklawn officials warmly congratulated him. What a difference a horse makes.

If that were not vindication enough for one race, the winning rider, Larry Snyder, had picked up the mount after being replaced on the race’s program favorite, Say I’m Smart, which he had guided to two Oaklawn wins. New York rider Eddie Maple flew in for the mount on Say I’m Smart, but watched the race from the jockeys’ room because the colt was scratched in mid-afternoon. Trainer David Vance discovered filling in a front ankle that morning.

Throwback Thursday: More on Sunny's Halo

The scratch did little to detract from the performance of Sunny’s Halo. Carrying the high weight of 121 pounds and making his first start in nearly five months, he was rated fifth during the early running of the race of one mile and 70 yards. The pacesetters were Passing Base and Le Cou Cou. Then, just when Snyder was ready to swing outside for room near the stretch, Cagle Springs rushed up on the outside blocking his exit. Snyder calmly waited for room, and once the outside was clear, the issue quickly was resolved.

With a furlong left, Sunny’s Halo collared Sligh Jet, which had moved from third to the lead in the turn, and drew out to win by three lengths.

Sligh Jet, which had had a race over the track and was receiving four pounds from the winner, was second, 1 3/4 lengths before Loblolly Stable’s Cagle Springs. Jenkins Ferry, also owned by Loblolly, and part of the favored entry, stopped and finished ninth in the 11-horse field after running fifth early.

“I had nowhere to go at the five-sixteenths pole,” said Snyder. “I finally found room. When I did, he just took off. The trainer did a great job to have this horse fit enough to run that far over a muddy race track after being off so long.”

Sunny’s Halo, which was bred and is owned by Toronto stockbroker David Poster, had not run since Nov. 4. He had been training in California and was shipped to Oaklawn eight days before the race.

“I planned on running him at Santa Anita,” said Cross, an ex-jockey who for years trained in New England, “but the track was so bad I moved over to Hollywood Park. So many horses were falling by the wayside in California I decided to get out of there. I wanted to go east, anyway, because if I go to Kentucky, I wanted to run him over a deep track. These tracks are much kinder to a horse.”

For Sunny’s Halo, which was conceived in Maryland but foaled in Canada, his juvenile season was a sterling combination of both boom and bust. After winning the Colin Stakes at Woodbine last July, he was made the favorite in the Tremont Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park, but finished third, two lengths behind Laus’ Cause. In his next start, in the Sanford Stakes (G2) at Saratoga Race Course, he was fifth, 71/2 lengths behind Copelan. He then won three straight stakes at Woodbine, the Swynford and Grey Stakes and the Coronation Futurity, before trailing Cast Party in the Laurel Futurity (G1) and Slewpy in Meadowlands’ Young America Stakes (G1).

“He was winning easily in Canada,” said Cross, “but … we’ve had a few problems with the horse. He’s a bit sickle hocked and a bit weak behind, but it didn’t bother his running ability in the Rebel.

“We’ll use this race to go right into the Arkansas Derby (G1), skip the Blue Grass (G1), and go right into the Kentucky Derby (G1). I like to keep his races three weeks apart, and you have to miss a dance somewhere.”

Say I’m Smart, according to Vance, may be out for some time.

“He has some suspensory damage, but it is hard to tell how long he will be out. There is no way we can make the Arkansas Derby and after that I do not know. Right now you cannot miss any training and expect to make it to the Kentucky Derby.”

For Vance and  Eddie Maple, it was a day to regroup. For Cross and Snyder, it was a day to celebrate.

As Snyder walked Sunny’s Halo into a winner’s circle lined three-deep with dignitaries, Cross looked at him and smiled.

“Don’t worry, jock,” he said. “I’m not bringing (jockey Angel) Cordero in for the Arkansas Derby.”

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