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Pieces Are in Place Again for Threewitt : Horse racing: The trainer, 82, has Devoted Brass, jockey Desormeaux back for today's Santa Anita Derby.

April 03, 1993|BILL CHRISTINE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trainer Noble Threewitt sat in his office at Santa Anita's barn No. 14, where his horses have been stabled since 1946, and considered the omens.

"I'm on a roll," Threewitt said. "They took my horse, and then I got him back. Then I lost my rider, and I got him back, too. Everything's falling in place."

Charlie Whittingham was 76 when he saddled Sunday Silence to win the Santa Anita Derby in 1987. If Devoted Brass and his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, win the $500,000 race today, Threewitt, 82, will become its oldest winning trainer. Whittingham, who will turn 80 on April 13, is still winning races, but doesn't have a starter in the Santa Anita Derby.

For a couple of days last weekend, a crestfallen Threewitt didn't think he would be involved in today's race, either. Two days after Devoted Brass' owner, Don Jordens, turned down a $650,000 offer for his gelding and told Threewitt that the horse was no longer for sale, Jordens approved an offer of about $800,000 from David Milch, who would have turned the horse over to his trainer, Darrell Vienna. The Milch-Vienna team was disappointed earlier this year when Gilded Time, last year's champion 2-year-old male, was removed from the Kentucky Derby picture because of a hoof problem.

After Devoted Brass was X-rayed, Milch withdrew his offer, and the horse remained with Threewitt.

"I don't know for sure what those pictures showed," Threewitt said. "I know the horse toes in some, and that's why he didn't bring much at the sale. I heard that his shins might have been a little fuzzy on the X-rays, but that's all I know. I wouldn't be running this horse if I didn't think he was all right. There's no reason that he won't run a good race."

A son of Dixieland Band out of Royal Devotion, Devoted Brass was sold at a Keeneland yearling auction for $14,000. Seven months later, at a Barrett's auction of unraced 2-year-olds in California, the bidding on Devoted Brass stopped at $11,000 and he was withdrawn from the sale. Jordens, a builder from British Columbia, bought Devoted Brass privately for $18,000.

Desormeaux, who rode Devoted Brass when he won the San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 27, was supposed to ride River Special in the Santa Anita Derby. Threewitt was on the verge of giving the mount on Devoted Brass to Laffit Pincay or Alex Solis when River Special was sidelined because of a shin injury, which freed Desormeaux to ride Devoted Brass again.

Threewitt was on the periphery when Andy Crevolin, who had bought Determine for $12,000 as a yearling, tried to sell the colt in 1954. W.R. Johnson, a client of Threewitt's, made Crevolin a $50,000 offer and asked Threewitt to check the horse.

"I didn't think that would be ethical, so I suggested that they have a vet do it," Threewitt said. "The vet said that Determine had a bad knee. Well, we all know what Determine did that year: He won the Kentucky Derby."

That was the same year that Threewitt, with his only Kentucky Derby starter, saddled Correlation for a sixth-place finish, almost eight lengths behind Determine. Correlation, a modest 3-1 favorite in that Derby, had won the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial.

"I believe Correlation was the first horse to fly back East and win a big race," Threewitt said, adding that Gulfstream Park paid for the horse's trip.

Threewitt had never flown with a horse before, and when he looked inside the plane before takeoff, he turned to his wife, Beryl, and said: "I don't like the looks of this. I'm not going."

"But you've got to go," his wife said.

"Yes, I guess you're right," Threewitt said, and he made the trip.

A Florida Derby winner's circle picture of Correlation, ridden by Bill Shoemaker, hangs on Threewitt's office wall. There is also a picture of Beeson winning a $500 handicap at the old Tanforan track south of San Francisco in 1933, and a montage of Threewitt's nine consecutive winners at Tanforan in 1956.

"Beeson won that race before it was legal to bet on horses in California," said Threewitt, whose first of 398 victories at Santa Anita came on Dec. 29, 1934, the fifth day the new track was open.

It is costing Jordens $20,000 to make Devoted Brass a supplemental entry into the Santa Anita Derby, and last month a late nominating fee of $4,500 was paid to make the horse eligible for the Triple Crown, which begins with the Kentucky Derby on May 1.

"The first time this horse ran for me (in the San Vicente Breeders' Cup on Feb. 7), I was afraid to run him," Threewitt said. "He's not a good horse to train in the mornings, so I had no idea how he'd run. I was afraid he might get beat by 10 lengths. But the owner told me he would run all right, and he did."

Devoted Brass came from far back to finish third, behind Yappy and Denmars Dream.

"This horse coming along at this time is a big thing for me," Threewitt said. "Most of my life, I've been a high-price claiming trainer, not a stakes trainer, and in the last five or six years I haven't even had too many high-priced claimers do much, either."

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