Illinois May Suspend Trainer of Sunny’s Halo
David Cross, who trained Sunny’s Halo, the winner in the 1983 Kentucky Derby, could face a lengthy suspension after a hearing by the Illinois Racing Board in Chicago next Wednesday.
There are reports that the hearing, which is investigating the finding that Sunny’s Halo raced with an illegal medication in his system while finishing fourth in the Arlington Classic two years ago, may lead to a suspension of as long as a year for Cross. Shortly after the race, the trainer served a five-day suspension as the result of a ruling by stewards at Arlington Park.
Ned Bonnie, the Louisville attorney who represents Cross, isn’t optimistic. Bonnie, who said Cross is being used as a pawn in a political struggle among Illinois racing officials, said he had a better case last fall, when another trainer was charged with a similar violation. That trainer was suspended for 60 days.
Cross is also expecting the worst, an almost understandable attitude since his career and personal life have bottomed out since Sunny’s Halo’s Derby victory. In the last two years, his wife, Patty, has become seriously ill, he has been unable to form a public thoroughbred stable, and he recently lost an estimated $50,000 in a quarter-horse training venture.
“I’m the victim of circumstances (in Illinois),” Cross said Wednesday. “They’re looking for a person to hang and I’m the guy. I’ve trained for 30 years all over the United States and Canada and never had a positive (drug test) until this one, and there aren’t many trainers that can say that. I haven’t made a bet in 25 years, and besides, Sunny’s Halo went off at 1 to 5 in that race, so how could I have made any money betting on him even if I did?”
Bonnie said that if this were a civil case, the Illinois Racing Board would not be allowed to prosecute Cross because it would amount to double jeopardy. “But in Illinois, the board is entitled to review any action by the stewards,” he said.
Some members of the board have been said to believe that Cross’ five-day suspension was too lenient. Cross said that an attempt to plea bargain any further penalty was denied by the board. Bonnie said that the notoriety of Sunny’s Halo--a Kentucky Derby winner--is also playing a part in the racing board’s determination to punish Cross severely.
The drug found in Sunny’s Halo’s system after the Arlington Classic contained a by-product of an antihistamine that is used to treat hives. It can also be a stimulant, however, if it is given to a horse close to race time.
Cross said that the drug was given to the colt 72 hours before the Classic. According to Bonnie, however, the Illinois Racing Board has an expert witness who analyzed Sonny’s Halo’s urine and said that the drug had been given to the horse only 24 hours before the race.
After the Derby, Sunny’s Halo was bothered by a skin fungus at Pimlico, where he ran sixth as the favorite in the Preakness. The Classic was his next start, three weeks after the Preakness.
David (Pud) Foster, the Toronto man who owned Sunny’s Halo, offered Cross a job training a string of his horses, but the trainer says he turned him down. “The Illinois thing was hanging over my head and it wouldn’t have been fair to the man to take his horses and then have the rug pulled,” he said.
One source said that there was a dispute over the results of Sunny’s Halo’s urinalyses, which were conducted by both an Illinois lab and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., which is considered to have one of the finest equine testing facilities in the country. A task force of Illinois Gov. James Thompson’s recently recommended that the lab now used by the racing board be closed and that testing be shifted to the University of Illinois’ School of Veterinary Medicine.
Cross, who was given four lifetime breeding rights to Sonny’s Halo by Foster, has been hit by substantial legal fees, plus heavy medical bills for his wife, who is currently hospitalized in the area. “There’s no money coming in,” Cross said. He has saddled three quarter-horse winners this year and his purse total has been less than $9,000.
Said Bonnie: “If we wanted to fight this all the way, it could be another Dancer’s Image case. But I don’t think David could stand that, either emotionally or financially.”
Dancer’s Image won the 1968 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified because an illegal medication was found in his system. Nearly four years later, after a court fight, the win and purse money were awarded to Forward Pass, who ran second.
Under a reciprocity agreement among the various breeds, a thoroughbred suspension would also prevent Cross from training quarter horses. A friend of Cross said that he might be able to land a job managing a thoroughbred horse farm in New York if he receives a lengthy suspension.
“I’ve got a seventh-grade education,” Cross said. “I’m not exactly cut out to go on and become a brain surgeon.”
Forzando II, an upset winner in the Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park last month, will challenge the big three of Greinton, Lord at War and Precisionist Sunday in the $500,000 Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park.
“We beat the best back East, so we’re going to see what we can do in California,” said Sherwood Chillingworth, the Pasadena real-estate developer who owns almost 27% of Forzando. “Our big concern is the mile and a quarter. He’s never been that far before.”
Forzando, an English-bred 4-year-old who raced at Santa Anita before going to New York to win the Fort Marcy Handicap at Aqueduct and the Metropolitan, will carry 118 pounds, seven fewer than Precisionist, who is top-weighted at 125. Lord at War will get 123 pounds, and Greinton has been assigned 120.
Eddie Delahoussaye, who hasn’t ridden Forzando, will get the mount in a bid to win his third straight Gold Cup. Delahoussaye won last year astride Desert Wine and was first with Island Whirl in 1983. Only three jockeys--George Woolf, Bill Shoemaker and Jerry Lambert--have won the race three straight times.
When entries are taken today, Forzando, Lord at War, Greinton and Precisionist may be the only starters. Other possibilities are Semillero and Kings Island.
An antitrust lawsuit by Sports Eye against the Daily Racing Form and Hollywood Park has been settled out of court, Jack Cohen, publisher of Sports Eye, confirmed Wednesday.
Sports Eye, a New York-based publication that attempted to compete with the Racing Form in California, reportedly will receive $7 million from the Form and $3 million from Hollywood Park, in exchange for Sports Eye’s agreement to discontinue thoroughbred coverage nationally. Sports Eye also contains past performances and results of harness racing.
Neither Cohen nor Michael Sandler, publisher of the Racing Form, would comment on the terms of the settlement. Cohen said that Sports Eye was selling 10,000 copies a week when it started distribution late in the Santa Anita meeting.
Sports Eye, which had projected weekly sales of 30,000-40,000, was unable to sell the paper at Hollywood Park, which also denied its representatives press credentials.
Racing Notes Local trainers Chuck Taliaferro and Kathy Hutchinson will run horses at Canterbury Downs, a track that will introduce Minnesota to racing in suburban Minneapolis starting next Wednesday. Santa Anita has a minority financial interest in Canterbury. . . . Patti Barton, rider of 1,202 winners, more than any female jockey, has retired. Barton, 40, suffered serious multiple injuries last year at Fairmount Park near St. Louis. She worked for George Hartstone, a local trainer, early in her career. Asked if she might start training horses, Barton said: “I’m married to a trainer. I think that’s enough in one family.” Barton has a son and a daughter who are jockeys.