Horse racing ‘Sunshine Boys’ enjoy endless summer

Jan 4, 2005 4:52 AM

Meet Leonard Dorfman and Noble Threewitt, racing’s "Sunshine Boys."

They frequently make their rounds together at Santa Anita each morning, sort of a Stone Age entry, an ancient 1 and 1a.

Each is a thoroughbred trainer, although their barns have seen better days. Between them, they have graced this earth going on two centuries.

Dorfman, a friendly fireplug of a guy who resembles a pocket-sized Popeye, will be 83 next June. Threewitt, a tad taller and rarely seen without his brimmed chapeau, will be 94 on Feb. 24. That means he was born before the sinking of the Titanic.

Each is a gentleman of the first order, as befits a generation that adheres to courtesy and common sense, not boom boxes and braggadocio.

Business is slow these days. Dorfman trains only three horses, Threewitt two. It’s their passion for the game that keeps them going. Assuredly it’s not the money, because Threewitt’s stable is in the red, and not because that is the signature color at his barn. Noble’s two loyal hands, Eddie and John, have been with him for years, even though the workload has decreased immeasurably.

Threewitt doesn’t blame age discrimination for his plight. "My big problem," he said, "is that I’ve outlived all of my good owners. I could count on them for four or five horses every year, but they got to passing away."

Time will do that, just like it initiates new beginnings.

"The game has changed dramatically," said Dorfman, whose big horse is the stakes-winning McCann’s Mojave, bred and owned in part by Mike Willman, whose insightful verbal prose as inter-track television host can be heard on the airwaves from Hollywood Park and Del Mar, as well as his weekend radio show called, "Thoroughbred Los Angeles."

"Modern medicine has helped the horse, to be truthful," Dorfman said. "It used to be if a horse were sore, some trainers would warm it up for 10 minutes before it could even gallop. Horses would stand in their stall cooling out and walking wide. That is not the case today.

"And horses aren’t as mean as they were in the old days. Back then there were always four or five horses that had a reputation of savaging a groom. I believe they did that because they were sore and they were training sore."

According to Dorfman, the fabled Seabiscuit was not as ornery as depicted in Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," and the hit Universal film, "Seabiscuit."

"As I remember, Seabiscuit’s knees used to warm up on him, and although I was never affiliated with his barn, at Tanforan I knew Whitey, who took care of Seabiscuit. He was a nice guy and I was just a kid so he would tell me a lot of things. Seabiscuit was a stud, but never gave anybody any trouble, really."

Threewitt, who was on hand at Santa Anita when it opened on Christmas Day, 1934, had great respect for Seabiscuit’s trainer, Tom Smith. "I knew more about the trainer than I did about the horse," Threewitt said. "I knew Smith when he was rubbing horses in the same barn I was galloping horses for at Caliente around 1931. That’s where Smith started as a trainer. He was a tremendous horseman. And Seabiscuit, he was one of a kind."

Threewitt’s top horse was Correlation, who finished sixth as the 3-1 favorite in the 1954 Kentucky Derby. "Correlation was maybe the best horse I ever had," he said. "The day he won the Wood Memorial in 1954 he could have beat any horse in America."

Racing has always been Threewitt’s life. He has no hobbies, no avocations. "People ask me what I would do if I retired, and I say, ”˜I don’t know. I don’t play golf. I can’t even play checkers.’"

Threewitt is president of the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation and Dorfman is on the board of directors. Their paths cross almost daily. "We keep each other young," said Dorfman, who has been coming to Santa Anita for nearly 70 years.

"My first year at Santa Anita was 1937," he said. "Actually, I didn’t start working at the race track until just before the first Del Mar meeting. I went down there for a summer job in 1937 and it’s been summer ever since."

The homestretch

Bet on this: when California’s Horse Racing Board has its meeting Friday to consider the ruling of an administrative law judge on Patrick Valenzuela’s appeal of his suspension last summer, P. Val will be reinstated. You’ve heard of the cat with nine lives? This is the Pat with nine lives.

”¡ Eddie Delahoussaye says he doesn’t miss riding. "It’s gone and I can’t go back so there’s no use dwelling on it," said the Hall of Famer, who was forced to retire three years ago due to injuries. "I still come to the track and I love it. I love the people, I love the horses—mainly the horses. It keeps me active."

Told the fans miss him, Eddie D., now 53, said, "I miss the fans, too." Delahoussaye buys, sells and breeds horses these days but isn’t getting rich. "You can’t make a living at the race track," he said with a smile. "I’m living off my pension."

”¡ This just in: a member of the media actually got a response from Jockey Guild president Dr. Wayne Gertmenian.