06/03/2003 11:00PM

Derby winner Sunny's Halo dead

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Sunny's Halo, winner of the 1983 Kentucky Derby and the leading sire in Texas, was euthanized Tuesday at Double S Thoroughbreds in Tyler, Texas.

Double S employee Dwayne Sackett found the 23-year-old Halo horse lying in his paddock and unable to rise, prompting the decision to euthanize the horse.

At the time of his death, Sunny's Halo was Texas's leading sire by lifetime progeny earnings, with more than $26 million in worldwide purses won. But he is best known for his victory in the 1983 Derby, in which he won in a field that included eventual 3-year-old champion Slew o' Gold and became only the second Canadian-bred to win the Derby, following Northern Dancer in 1964.

Bred in Ontario by his owner, David Foster, Sunny's Halo was sired by Halo out of the Sunny mare Mostly Sunny. He was a champion at 2 in Canada. Though he never achieved champion status in the United States, he established himself as one of the leaders of his 3-year-old class. He captured the 1983 Rebel Handicap and Arkansas Derby, his only two starts at 3 before he won the Kentucky Derby under jockey Eddie Delahoussaye. He also won the 1983 Super Derby Invitational in a track-record-equaling time of 2:01.60 for 1 1/4 miles at Louisiana Downs.

David Cross Jr., who trained Sunny's Halo, was widely applauded for getting a classic-winning performance out of the colt on Derby Day with only a pair of prep races. But Sunny's Halo didn't run back to that form in the Preakness, where he finished sixth after developing a skin rash, and he skipped the Belmont. Cross's fortunes declined, and he left the racing game briefly, even selling his Kentucky Derby trophy on eBay for $8,928.56.

Sunny's Halo retired with a record of 20-9-3-2 and $1,247,791 in earnings, and went on to a stud career after his 3-year-old season. Although he never reached the upper echelon of the nation's stallions, he proved useful. During a career that included stints at Domino and Walmac in Kentucky and several shuttle trips to Brazil, he sired such runners as Grade 1 winner Dispersal, Irgun, and Race the Wild Wind.

Billy Hanna, Bill Bronstad, and Rush McGinty purchased Sunny's Halo from Walmac in 1998 and moved him to Texas. He had an advertised fee of $4,000 this year. Sunny's Halo has been buried at Double S Thoroughbreds.