Longevity would seem wasted on many people, but that was never the case with Noble Threewitt, a man who proved that you don't have to train great horses to be a great horseman. His name, so splendid in itself, was little known on this side of the Atlantic, but meant a good deal to one of our leading trainers. John Gosden, enjoying perhaps the hottest streak of his own, far more illustrious career, yesterday took a moment to treasure what was surely the longest in Turf history.
Threewitt's death, at 99, comes just three years after his retirement. He saddled his first winner in 1932, as the youngest trainer in North America; his last, in 2006. In between, there were over 2,000 others, but few were terribly distinguished. He did once win nine consecutive races at the old Tanforan racetrack in California. And he did train Correlation, who started favourite for each leg of the 1954 Triple Crown, beaten only in a photo for the Preakness Stakes. But what made Threewitt as cherished as anyone inducted into the Hall Of Fame was instead the generosity of spirit that animated his every dealing with man and horse alike. Another veteran trainer, Mel Stute, has no doubt: "In my opinion, he was a legend in horseracing."
Gosden got to know Threewitt in California during the 1980s. "He was the most lovely man," Gosden remembered. "He and Charlie Whittingham would get to the barn every morning at four o'clock, and I'd show up at five, and he would turn and ask what had been keeping me. And he was one of those unusual people who are completely selfless. I suppose a lot of that could be traced to his coming up through the Great Depression, and seeing that side of life."
Certainly, you could not start out at Tijuana, as did Threewitt aged just 21, without discovering the full spectrum of humanity. The Agua Caliente track, just south of the Mexican border, could introduce you to poverty, greed and vice; and it could teach you the virtues of endeavour, and traditional horse lore. In Threewitt, as Gosden remarks, it sowed the seeds of long service as president of the Californian horsemen's benevolent foundation.
Threewitt shared a tack room in Caliente with Tom Smith, the taciturn mustang breaker who won unexpected fame by piecing together a crippled claimer named Seabiscuit. Both men belonged to the old school. Threewitt saddled runners at the inaugural meetings at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Hollywood Park. As he grew older, and less fashionable, Threewitt watched cynical young veterinarians turn training barns into pharmaceutical laboratories. He stuck scrupulously to hay, oats and water.
The only stimulus Threewitt permitted in his office was a life-size, cardboard cut-out of Mae West. They had met when he took a cameo role as a jockey in a 1935 musical. But he had already given his heart to Beryl, his wife for over 70 years and his sweetheart still until she died only this summer. As his career finally wound down, he would grumble humorously about owners preferring younger trainers. "But I'm no dumber now than I've ever been," he would protest. "I've outlived all my owners. Still, that's better than the alternative. And I've had a wonderful life, doing exactly what I wanted to do."
Measured against the life and times of Threewitt, Gosden is certainly not going to get carried away by his astonishing recent form, embracing a sequence of 18 winners in nine days, including the St Leger with Arctic Cosmos. "It has been a good run," he acknowledged. "But I had been quiet fairly deliberately, during July and August, because I had a lot of two-year-olds that wanted seven furlongs or a mile, and middle distances next year, and had to wait for the ground for a lot of them. But we had them teed up, once we got a bit of rain, because you have to be careful – if you leave them until October you'll find the races thinning out on you."
Among those contributing to this spree, Gosden admitted that he has "a couple in mind" for his hat-trick quest in the Breeders' Cup Turf Juvenile, but they must run again in the meantime to earn their passage.
Mikel Delzangles is already viewing the Mile at Churchill Downs as his priority for Makfi, an intriguing admission as he prepares for his latest showdown with Canford Cliffs in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Saturday. "The Breeders' Cup is his main objective, I have to say, rather than this week," the Frenchman said. At the same time, he emphasised that the 2,000 Guineas winner, found to be ill after disappointing on his previous visit to Ascot, "is pleasing me as much now as he has done all year, definitely."
Aidan O'Brien confirmed yesterday that Cape Blanco had been left in the race essentially as a precaution, and remains more likely to join Fame And Glory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday week. The principal Ballydoyle hope, among half a dozen acceptors, is Rip Van Winkle. Totesport offer even money about Canford Cliffs, with Makfi 9-4 and Rip Van Winkle 7-2.
*Chris McGrath's Nap
Kingdom Of Munster (5.30 Beverley)
Lost his way after leaving Ballydoyle, tried over a variety of trips, but his first start for a prolific new yard suggested that he retains enough ability to take advantage of what is now a very modest rating.
Sentosa (4.50 Folkestone)
Debut was a non-event after she stumbled, but showed plenty of ability at Goodwood next time, travelling well and keeping up pursuit of a more experienced rival.
One to watch
Macho's Magic (D Nicholls) looked a sprinter with a future when sharing a reckless pace in maiden at Ayr last week, holding all bar one of the finishers and sure to be better still back over 5f.
Where the money's going
Ladbrokes have opened a book on the Prix de l'Abbaye and make Swiss Diva 3-1 favourite from Fleeting Spirit on 5-1.