Threewitt retires in style at 96

Jan 23, 2007 6:43 AM

Here’s the definitive joke on aging: An old man goes to a doctor. "I can’t pee," he complains. "How old are you?" the doctor asks. "Eighty-four," the old man says. The doctor says, "You peed enough."

Noble Threewitt, who turns 96 on Feb. 24, would be the first to admit he has exceeded his pees, but he’s reluctant to give up training horses, which he has done for a period spanning eight decades. But with the ravages of old age taking root, at least in the eyes of his wife of 73 years, Beryl, and with Noble down to only three horses, his better half says it’s time to hang ”˜em up. Though disinclined, he will officially acquiesce on Feb. 24. But it’s been quite a run.

As a mind-boggling historical point of reference, Threewitt was born before the sinking of the Titanic. That occurred in April of 1912. Noble docked in 1911. Here are some other Threewitt landmarks worthy of a time capsule: He rode at Kansas City fairs in 1930; obtained his trainer’s license in 1931; was on hand when Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day, 1934; is the oldest trainer to win a race in North America, on April 22, 2006, when, at 95, his Threeatonce won at Santa Anita; was the youngest trainer in North America when he began at Caliente at age 21; saddled Correlation to win the Florida Derby in 1954 (the colt finished sixth as the 3-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby that year); won with nine consecutive starters at Tanforan in 1956; and saw the legendary Phar Lap run at Caliente in 1932.

As if that weren’t enough, he’s a nice guy, to boot.

"I’ve always admired his work ethic," said 65-year-old Bill Spawr, the first trainer at the track every morning. "He’s an early guy like me and a nice man. I have never heard anybody say a bad word about him, and in a sport where there’s so much jealousy and envy, that’s very rare."

One of Threewitt’s disciples was the late Eddie Gregson, like his mentor, an old-school horseman and an advocate of the "hay, oats and water" dictum. When asked if his horses would wear nose bands when the short-lived fad came into prominence a few years ago, Gregson said sardonically, "You’d sooner see one of my horses wearing a dress." Today, as he was in his prime, Threewitt is a no-nonsense guy, too, but a gentleman first and foremost.

Proper and polite, not like some repulsive malcontents in today’s society, Threewitt is a pleasure to be around, even now, despite a painfully ailing right eye and other debilitations that have dulled his once-sharp memory. After 96 years, cells that once had total recall are entitled snooze.

If Threewitt had his druthers, he’d soldier on to the end.

"I’ve got this bad eye that bothers me," he said. "I’m half-crazy fooling with it, but Beryl wants me to retire. I told her, ”˜What am I going to do?’ but she’s set on it."

Outside of devoting his life to racing and helping the less fortunate in the game, he has no advocations. "I don’t golf, I don’t fish, I don’t follow sports," he once told me. He also didn’t know the origin of his first name, nor the reason for his longevity. "I had a sister who died in her 50s," he once said. "I can’t explain why I’ve lived so long. Good living and good genes, I guess."

Whatever it is, racing has been the beneficiary. He served six terms as president of the California Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, and 16 years as a national vice president. He is president of the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation, whose mission is to improve the quality of life of backstretch workers in California. He has taken the full time job for more than 20 years, without compensation. Santa Anita’s medical facility was renamed the Noble Threewitt Health Center in his honor three years ago.

At his retirement ceremony on Feb. 24, Santa Anita, the track where he had his home away from home at Barn 14 for more than seven decades, will present him with a lifetime pass, so he can visit the ramshackle dwelling any time the urge strikes him. As Noble Threewitt approaches a century on God’s good earth, hopefully that will be for a long time.

The homestretch:

”¡ Kiaran McLaughlin was happy with Invasor’s workouts at Belmont before the Horse of the Year shipped to Florida for his 2007 debut in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3. "The Dubai World Cup (March 31) would be after the Donn" said McLaughlin, who added that he was "honored to have a horse among the three finalists," even if Invasor hadn’t won. Whether Invasor races past 2007 "is up to his owner, Sheik Hamden (bin Rashid, who races as Shadwell Stable)," McLaughlin said.

”¡ Todd Pletcher gave me this update on his 45-day suspension due to end on Jan. 31: "We haven’t ironed it all out yet, but as far as we’re concerned, the suspension started on Dec. 18 and we’re eligible to enter horses on Feb. 1, but we’ll know more on that later."

”¡ I want a contract like Chris Webber’s: $20 million this year, $22 million next year, and I can’t play.

”¡ This from GamingToday subscriber Steven Tyre of Temple City, CA: "The Racing Form should list the mutuel takeout at each track, so bettors would know which offers the best value. It also might encourage tracks with high takeout rates to be more competitive."

”¡ I saw a TV ad hawking "age erasers." I don’t know what the response was, but I bet it would be greater if they were selling "ugly erasers."