The day in 1954 that Noble Threewitt saddled Correlation to win the Florida Derby, the trainer met Arthur Godfrey in the winner's circle and the radio personality said: "Nobody has a name like Noble Threewitt."
Around Santa Anita, no one has ever questioned Threewitt's name, because the trainer who turned 82 last week and the Arcadia track grew up together. The first race Threewitt ever won at Santa Anita was on Dec. 29, 1934, which was the fifth day the track was open.
The most recent victory for Threewitt came Saturday, and another celebrity, Mickey Rooney, was in the winner's circle to help the trainer celebrate Devoted Brass' unlikely victory in the $157,500 San Rafael Stakes.
Devoted Brass, whose only two races as a 2-year-old were at Stampede Park in Calgary, Canada, where there never has been a crowd larger than 6,000, launched a stampede of his own in the San Rafael, winning a long stretch drive against Union City and leaving the favorites, Stuka and Art Of Living, far back.
At his age, Threewitt might seem to be too old to have a Kentucky Derby candidate, but racing is one sport that doesn't discriminate against senior citizens. Charlie Whittingham, who trains his horses not far from Threewitt's, was 76 when he saddled Sunday Silence for his victory at Churchill Downs in 1989. Whittingham's colt, Lord Of The Bay, was another of those that Devoted Brass defeated on Saturday.
"I don't know how to express how thrilling this is," Threewitt said of his first victory at Santa Anita this season. But it's a real shot in the arm."
Owned by Don Jordens of Vancouver Island, Devoted Brass was making only his fourth start. On a recommendation from some other Canadians who had hired Threewitt, Jordens sent the gelding to California last fall after he had won twice by more than 11 lengths at Stampede. The first time Threewitt started Devoted Brass, he was 32-1 and ran third, behind Yappy and Denmars Dream, in the San Vicente Breeders' Cup Stakes at Santa Anita three weeks ago.
Devoted Brass' odds dropped to 5-1 before a Santa Anita crowd of 17,021 Saturday, and Kent Desormeaux, celebrating his 23rd birthday, rode him to a half-length victory over Union City. It was 12 lengths farther back to Stuka, the 7-10 favorite, in third place, and another neck to Lord Of The Bay, in fourth.
Trainer Gary Jones saw his two starters, Stuka and Art Of Living, wear themselves out in an early duel for the lead with Lord Of The Bay, and all three horses had nothing left for the serious running.
Jones had hoped to have Stuka break on top, but not to be battling his other horse. He was forced to run both front-runners because they have different owners and the owners of Art Of Living, John and Betty Mabee, were left with no other horses to run in the San Rafael when River Special got sick.
"One horse broke bad (Stuka) and the other one was (difficult to control)," Jones said. "That's real stupid, isn't it?"
Sandwiched by Stuka and Art Of Living in the gate, Devoted Brass was caught between them at the break.
"My horse ducked in pretty good at the start, and I had to grab him and save Kent (and Devoted Brass) from clipping my heels," said Pat Valenzuela, Stuka's jockey. "Then he got to lugging in through the stretch pretty good. In fact, he was basically lugging in the whole trip. I'm concerned that the horse is OK. I hope he comes back OK, because this was his first time out in a long time (since Dec. 20) and he deserved to get tired, especially after the fast fractions."
The first quarter went by in 22 2/5 and the half-mile time was 45 1/5. Devoted Brass was last after a half-mile, about six lengths from the lead. He caught the field on the far turn and had the lead by the top of the stretch, outside Union City and Chris McCarron.
Desormeaux was riding Devoted Brass for the first time. "I was under the assumption that he had absolutely no early speed," Desormeaux said. "He broke with the rest of them, and I had to drag him off the lead. The race set up well, and he came home hard. I was very surprised in the effort out of Union City. I came to that horse flying, and he exploded with me. I thought I was going to win by 10, and I was lucky to hold on."
Union City had never run in a stake, winning two of seven starts while coming up through the allowance ranks.
"It's only February," said Wayne Lukas, who trains Union City. "We're where we want to be with this horse. I'm comfortable with how he's come along. And he's bred to run two miles."
Despite the small six-horse field, it was a roughly run race, with the unruly start and Union City getting squeezed by Devoted Brass through the stretch.
"He just didn't fire at all," jockey Gary Stevens said of Art Of Living. "He was in tight all the way. Stuka was on the outside of him, and there was a lot of contact. He was just never into it today."