David Cross Jr., lifelong horseman, Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famer, and trainer of 1983 Kentucky Derby winner Sunny's Halo, died this week at the age of 84, according to the Daily Racing Form. Cross had battled a series of health issues in recent years and had been in hospice care in Lexington, Ky., according to trainer Jinks Fires, for whom Cross had worked for several years.
Services are pending, per the Form's Jay Privman.
Cross spent much of his life at the racetrack. The British Columbia native was a hot walker, groom, jockey, and jockeys' valet before becoming a trainer. By the 1980s, Cross had been training for more than 25 years and conditioned Mostly Sunny for owner David J. Foster. When she retired, Cross consulted with Foster on her breeding, suggesting she be sent to Halo. The result, Sunny's Halo, was Cross's ticket to the big time, winning the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby before winning the Kentucky Derby as the favorite. Sunny's Halo would also win the Super Derby and finished third in the Whitney. In the 1990s, Cross enjoyed more success, training 1991 Derby contender Quintana, Grade 2 winner Dianes Halo, and multiple graded stakes-placed Classic Cat.
Cross's story would not be complete without mention of a medication violation with Sunny's Halo after the Arlington Classic, which remained a source of frustration for him long after his retirement from training. Cross was treating a bothersome skin condition the colt had going into the race and stopped his treatment at the prescribed withdrawal timeframe, but still came up with an overage. The Illinois Racing Board eventually pursued a lifetime ban against him, which Cross (who had no previous medication violations) successfully fought in court.
In his last years, Cross worked for Fires, walking hots and helping out wherever he could, just to be around horses. According to Equibase, he finished his training career in 2012 with 328 wins from 3,229 starts (counting from 1976, the start of the website's records, not from the beginning of his career in the 1950s).
“I'm pretty happy with what I've achieved in life,” he told the Paulick Report in 2018. “And I'm 83 years old – I'm still alive. I hope I don't look quite 83. I couldn't train a barn full of horses. I couldn't take the aggravation, for one thing. I always had good owners and I always had a piece of the horses I trained so I had control. I was able to run them where they belonged and go where I wanted. I was always too much on my own.”
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