Noble Cause - By Kevin Bolling

(Originally published in the March 12, 2011 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

By Kevin Bolling

On a rainy Friday night in late February, more than 150 people gathered in the Chandelier Room at Santa Anita Park to celebrate the lives of Noble and Beryl Threewitt, who had both passed away in 2010—Beryl in July, Noble in September. Noble would have just turned 100 the day before—Feb. 24. The memories shared that night focused on three common themes:  the tremendous accomplishments of Noble as a trainer, his advocacy and humanitarian work for backstretch workers and their families, and the true love that existed between Noble and Beryl. 

I shared an office with Noble when I began working at the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation. While I worked on the budget or prepared a presentation for the California Horse Racing Board about our declining income, which comes from unclaimed prize winnings, Noble had a constant stream of backstretch workers and other trainers visiting him. I had a front-row seat to some of the best storytelling in the industry: racing in Mexico (before it was legalized in California), the first opening day at Santa Anita, walking the first horse out of the trailer at Hollywood Park, meeting Mae West, the “real” story of Seabiscuit, a tale from one of Noble’s 2,000 winning races or about one of the many friends he’d made along the way.

Racing to Noble, however, wasn’t just about the wins or the records he held. He cared most about the people in racing. Noble was known for carrying an extra $20 in his pocket while he walked around the barns just in case he ran into someone who needed a little help that day. After leaving the barns, he would come to work at the CTHF clinic.

In 1983 Noble founded the CTHF, a non-profit, charitable organization that provides medical, dental, and vision care, as well as social services for backstretch workers and their family members. The foundation started as a small dental clinic at Santa Anita. The clinic, in a small modular trailer, got hauled to Hollywood Park for a season. With the addition of medical services, the clinic found a home outside of Gate 7, and in the mid-1990s the clinic expanded to a new facility, which is named in Noble’s honor. CTHF now has clinics at Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields, and Pleasanton, and provides services at Del Mar, San Luis Rey Downs, Pomona, and the northern fair circuit—anywhere Thoroughbreds race in the state of California. All of this was shepherded by Noble.

During the five years I worked with Noble, more than 50,000 men, women, and children received medical or dental treatment at one of the clinics or through referral services. For many on the backstretch, CTHF has been and will be the only health care provider they ever know. Noble was always accessible to the backstretch workers and particularly loved seeing children in and around the clinic. Indeed, the clinic has provided treatment for some families for three generations.

Many know the story about Noble telling Beryl’s father, trainer W.D. Buck, he and Beryl were going to get married. Noble had proposed only weeks after meeting Beryl. W.D.’s response: “I think you’re both crazy, but you’re going to do what you want to do. But I don’t think it will last.”

Through it all, Beryl was by Noble’s side for 77 years of marriage. Noble loved racing. Beryl loved the racetrack. She loved the energy and the people at opening day. She loved the winner’s circle, Bloody Marys at Frontrunners, and dressing appropriately for all occasions. Beryl was the strong, classy, determined, and lovingly opinionated woman that made Noble’s world possible.

Beryl set Noble’s clothes out each morning. After dropping him off daily at the barn, Beryl would pick him up for lunch and drive him home for dinner. Finally, when she was in her mid-90s, the state took her driver’s license away. True to her character, she drove to the Department of Motor Vehicles, license-less, and would not leave until she had a new driver’s license. After all, she needed to get her hair and nails done every other week, go to the bank, and take Noble to the racetrack and the clinic.

The CTHF is one of Noble’s greatest legacies to the racing industry. The staff at our clinics knows the work they do everyday truly makes a difference in the lives of the people on the backstretch—providing a strong and healthy foundation for the racing industry. He is remembered every day at the CTHF clinics where his “Noble” work continues.

Kevin Bolling is the executive director of the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation

8 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Rachel

These were 2 champion people. ♥

08 Mar 2011 5:35 PM
txhorsefan

Beautiful.  Thank you for sharing.

08 Mar 2011 6:39 PM
Rick Arthur

I had the privilege of serving under Noble when he was president of the California HBPA and the CTHF. No one has done more for the backside workers, trainers, and their families than Noble Threewitt.  When most of the trainers are taking their late morning naps or out golfing Noble was at the clinic he helped establish doing what he could.  He is always there.  Noble spent literally thousands, probably tens of thousands of hours doing what he could for backstretch workers and their families. He enjoyed helping people.

Certainly in California, no trainer, or anyone else for that matter, can come close to contributing the time and effort Noble put in with very little thanks from his peers.  Younger trainers today have no idea how hard Noble worked or what he accomplished for them.

Beryl was one of a kind. If she would have been born 75 years later she may have been the leading trainer rather than Noble. She was a sharp, articulate, wonderful woman who took a back seat to no one. What a pair.

08 Mar 2011 8:13 PM
nina

Heaven is a better place now.

08 Mar 2011 8:36 PM
needler in Virginia

The industry is poorer for their loss, and we should mourn the lack of more Threewits in this new century. Bless the work they began, may it long continue, and bless them both. Without the backstretch workers.... ALL OF THEM..how long do you think racing will last??

Cheers and safe trips to Noble and Beryl....quite a pair.

08 Mar 2011 9:53 PM
Convene

Integrity, charity, fortitude, honor, dignity ... Those two people are icons of those traits. Don't they make so many people today look pathetic - and they were young in a world much more restrictive than this one, especially for women. They don't make folks like this any more. Thank you for sharing your moments with them and helping all of us to know a little of them too.

09 Mar 2011 2:00 PM
MH

Cute story about Beryl and the DMV. Wish I could've been around racing when they were.

09 Mar 2011 8:19 PM
Michael Jawl

For some twenty years, my family and I were lucky enough to have Noble as our trainer. As a teenager I went to the track with my father and uncles and was constantly warned about the villains that lurked in the backstretch, masquerading as trainers,ready to take your money and sell you a broken down horse. Then we met Mr.Threewitt and all those pre-concieved notions went out the window. Honesty, integrity, and passion for the sport were the hallmarks of our experience with Noble. Most importantly, we learned from Noble

many thngs that went beyond the racetrack. His decency and compassion for his fellow man was an inspiration to all. He showed us that at the track, winning is fun, losing is more likely, but in the final analysis, there are more important things in life. In Noble and Beryl's world, participating in racing was a privilege and an honour. We will do our best to uphold their legacy.

10 Mar 2011 12:45 AM

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