A dominant personality is as much a hallmark of a great
thoroughbred as speed or stamina. Some horses have to be first.
Such was, and still very much is, the case with Sunny's Halo, a
winner on the track who to this day insists on being first in
the breeding shed. "When he recognized that somebody else was
breeding a mare, he'd pin his ears back and speak a lot," says
Billy Hanna, who is the majority owner of the stallion and
stands him at stud at Double S Thoroughbred Farm in Bullard,
Texas. "Sunny's a very strong-willed horse. He would let us know
that he didn't like anybody else breeding before him. Now we let
Sunny go first."

Nineteen years ago that same imperiousness helped carry the
leggy Canadian-bred colt to the winner's circle at Churchill
Downs. In a rainy Kentucky Derby the 5-2 shot stalked
front-running Total Departure for the first three quarters of a
mile, then took command down the backside before drawing off to
win in sloppy conditions by two lengths. Hampered by a skin
rash, he was unable to duplicate his Derby effort in the
Preakness and finished sixth; he did not run in the Belmont. He
was retired after his 3-year-old season with nine wins in 20
starts (three in Grade I stakes, including the Arkansas Derby)
and more than $1.2 million in career earnings. He is the last
horse to have been the feature subject on an SI cover.

Though Sunny's haughty demeanor has earned him priority status in
the breeding shed, it hasn't helped him to consistently impart
his talent to his offspring. Runners from his 16 crops of foals
have earned more than $24 million on the track, and 33 have been
stakes winners, but none has won a Triple Crown race. Thus the
stud fee for Sunny's Halo is only $4,000 for a guaranteed live
foal. "Sunny is somewhat of a hit-or-miss type stallion," Hanna
says. "Obviously it has a lot to do with the mare, but he'll
either throw you a real big horse, or he'll throw you a dud."
Still, the 22-year-old has a full book of 97 mares this breeding
season, which runs from Feb. 15 to July 15.

From his spot in the stallion barn Sunny's Halo enjoys a perfect
position from which to observe the comings and goings at Double
S. Likewise, anyone who visits can clearly see the only Kentucky
Derby winner residing in the Lone Star state, easily
distinguished by the broad blaze of white on his nose and the
high white socks on his hind legs. "He throws that same
whiteness to his babies, who are really pretty," says Hanna. "A
lot of people say, 'Pretty is as pretty does,' but if you get a
Sunny's Halo baby who enjoys what he's doing, then you've got
your hands on a racehorse." --Mark Beech

COLOR PHOTO: RONALD C. MODRASI's last cover horse, Sunny's Halo is now the only Kentucky Derby champion residing in Texas. COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL [See caption above]