In the vernacular of the times, David C. Cross Jr. has been there, done that.
The trainer cruised into Baltimore in 1983 with the Kentucky Derby winner, Sunny's Halo, only to watch the storm clouds mount. After winning the Derby by two lengths and looming as favorite in the Preakness, Sunny's Halo broke out in a rash.
Cross' veterinarian said: "Go ahead and run. You'll get away with it this time."
Cross knew that the colt's owners -- he owned 15 percent himself -- wanted to run because a second victory in a Triple Crown race would boost the colt's syndication price at stud.
So Cross ran. And Sunny's Halo finished sixth.
"Sometimes, greed gets in the way of intelligence," Cross said yesterday at Pimlico. "The day of the Preakness, I was within a fraction of an inch of scratching the horse. If I had it to do over again, the horse would have never run."
Now, Cross, 62, is back with a horse in the stakes barn, his first Preakness venture since Sunny's Halo. And he's back with a horse with another nagging problem.
Classic Cat, winner of the Coolmore Lexington Stakes, has a one-inch crack on the inside of his left hind hoof. Cross and a blacksmith spent 1 1/2 hours Saturday at Keeneland working on it, finally fitting it with a protective shoe.
Cross said Classic Cat will run on the shoe Saturday in the Preakness. But first, he'll test it during a breeze this morning at Pimlico.
Is he concerned?
"Darn right I'm concerned," Cross said. "If I have any inkling that it's going to bother him, I just won't run. That's all there is to it."
Classic Cat earned his way into the 1 3/16-mile Preakness with a driving win April 19 in the 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes at Keeneland. That was the son of Mountain Cat's first win since breaking his maiden in October.
But his first seven races were in California, where, Cross said, "they're running on race tracks just like the Indianapolis 500. All .. of California is speed, speed, speed, speed. This horse has got to come from out of it."
The final straw was the Santa Anita Derby. Because the track was as hard as concrete, Cross said, he told Classic Cat's jockey, Frank Alvarado: "You'd better keep him in the same area code as the leaders."
Alvarado kept him close, too close, and Classic Cat tired at the end. He finished fifth, 16 3/4 lengths behind the winner, Indian Charlie.
"With that, I got the horse out of California," Cross said.
Stabled at Santa Anita Park, he sent Classic Cat to Keeneland to prepare for the Lexington Stakes. That's the same race Touch Gold used last year as a springboard to the Preakness.
"We got a break that day," Cross said. "The horse had a good rail trip. But he was wanting to win. That's the main thing. He #F wanted to be something that day. You like to see that in a horse. And hopefully, he runs good here."
But if he doesn't, Cross won't lose any sleep. During his 42 years of training horses, he's developed a philosophy that keeps him flying level through all kinds of weather.
"I'm just going to have some fun this time," Cross said. "I'm going to enjoy the crab cakes and drink some good whiskey, and
"I'm not going in there thinking I'm going to walk home with a black-eyed susan. I'm going in there hoping the horse runs real big and, if he gets there, beautiful. There's no pressure at all. He's going to be 8- or 10-to-1."
Cross became more passionate, like a preacher delivering a sermon.
"I'm going to tell you right now," he said. "Every day that goes by, you just take it with a grain of salt and do your best.
"There're other things in this world beside these horses. When you're dead and gone, these horses will be still running around in a circle. And there'll be other Wayne Lukases and other so-and-sos.
"I mean, I love my horses, don't get me wrong. But if they get beat, it's not going to change my living. I'm still going to drive a Mercedes. I'm still going to drink red-label or black-label whiskey.
"So what's the difference?"
E9 With that, Cross fell silent. Sermon concluded. Amen.
Where: Pimlico Race Course
Post time: 5: 27 p.m.
Gates open: 8: 30 a.m.
Distance: 1 3/16 miles Purse: $1 million
TV: Chs. 2, 7
Derby winner: Real Quiet
* Information: 410-542-9400
Pub Date: 5/12/98