Noble Threewitt's name would have been made to order for Dickens, but he lived a long life that was as far from Blighty as you could get. He was born in Benton, a speck on a map of southern Illinois; he tried riding horses on the Kansas City fair circuit when he was a teenager; and then he made a cross-country leap to Mexico, where he took out a trainer's license when the Agua Caliente track was a playground for Hollywood's glitterati. It was said that the 21-year-old Threewitt was the youngest trainer in North America.
Threewitt, three months after he lost Beryl, his wife of 77 years, died the other day, five months shy of his 100th birthday. He trained until he was 96, earning another line in the record books, before he turned in his license on his birthday in 2007. He was not enthused about retiring, but one day he looked around the barn, saw only a handful of slow horses, and concluded that he had "outlived all the owners who kept me in horses over the years."
Nothing put a skip in your step like heading for Santa Anita's barn area for a morning visit with Threewitt and Charlie Whittingham, the Hall of Fame trainer, when their stables were opposite one another. You'd enter through the stable gate, hang a quick left and within a few strides you'd be transported to yore, not a bad place to be considering the game's current malaise. Both raconteurs of the first order, Threewitt would dredge up a yarn or two, and Whittingham would fill in the blanks. The sign on the side of Threewitt's barn, in an homage to brevity, read: "3WITT."
Beryl Threewitt, the daughter of a trainer, was at the track most days her husband had a horse in. She handicapped the other races, always saving an obligatory $2, and occasionally more, for Threewitt's runners. Beryl must have had a field day the spring of 1956 at old Tanforan, where Threewitt saddled nine straight winners.
Winning more than 2,000 races, Threewitt was hard-pressed to ever improve on Correlation, who besides the Florida Derby had a win in the Wood Memorial under his belt going into Determine's Kentucky Derby. Favored at 3-1, Correlation was banged around at the start, made a late run from 16th place but could do no better than sixth. Correlation was favored in the other Triple Crown races, too, but was a neck short of Hasty Road in the Preakness and settled for fifth, well back of High Gun, in the Belmont.
If Threewitt had an enemy, I never came across him. This was no mean trick, because he served six terms as president of a California horsemen's group that had a reputation for splintering the industry. It was difficult to quarrel with Threewitt's priorities--providing medical and dental care for backstretch workers and their families. The medical facility at Santa Anita is called the Noble Threewitt Health Center.
Threewitt's obituaries rolled in. One joked about how he really didn't know everything that happened in racing since the Civil War. One called him "iconic." Another referred to him as "venerable." He would have blushed and been embarrassed by these characterizations. He would have even said that they were over the top. But he would have been wrong, which didn't happen very often during Noble Threewitt's century on the planet.