50 Years Later, Threewitt Recalls Derby Favorite Correlation

(from Hollywood Park notes)
Trainer Noble Threewitt, who sent out favored Correlation 50 years ago Saturday, still remembers his disappointment in his only try in the Kentucky Derby.

The 1954 Derby date, as it is this year, was also May 1, a day that would turn into glory for California's Determine, a 1 1/2-length winner, jockey Ray York, trainer Willie Molter and owner Andy Crevolin.

The day yielded only disappointment to the connections of Correlation (who finished sixth as the 3-to-1 favorite) – Threewitt, jockey Bill Shoemaker and owner R.S. Lytle.

The remarkable Threewitt, who still trains four horses at Santa Anita at age 93, recalled the day vividly from his stable office on Friday.

"There's nothing like the Derby," he said of the charged atmosphere. But he felt that Correlation failed to run his race because of an airplane trip from New York earlier that week.

Correlation earned his role as favorite with victories in the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial. "Flying horses by plane was still a fairly new thing in 1954, and I wanted to van Correlation from New York to Kentucky, but the owner wanted to fly him," said Threewitt. "They used a temporary ramp for loading and unloading, and he had a lot of trouble getting on and off the plane. He was really stirred up unloading and never really got over that."

Chart footnotes say that Correlation was bumped immediately after the break and fell far back to 15th in a field of 17. Although he rallied well during the last half mile, he was left with too much to overcome and finished about four lengths behind Determine.

Threewitt remembers his moment in the spotlight at Churchill Downs well and recalled the effect it had on owner Lytle, a Los Angeles resident who never owned a horse close to the magnitude of Correlation.

"He was a very nice man but he went a little berserk with this horse," said Threewitt. "He was a geologist, and he said, 'If I found the greatest oil well in the world, nobody would know who I am. But, as the owner of this horse, I get all kinds of publicity.'"

Threewitt said that Correlation never regained his Florida Derby and Wood form and was the beaten favorite in both the Preakness and Belmont stakes, although he did nearly win the Preakness.

Bet down to 9-to-10 favoritism at Pimlico, Correlation rallied to finish second, a neck behind Hasty Road.

"He was bumped pretty good, but Shoemaker would never claim foul," said Threewitt. "The patrol judge was just waiting for him to claim and thought he would get it if he did. If the jockey didn't claim, it was up to the trainer or owner to make the claim, but by the time we got there, the race was already declared official."

Threewitt said he would watch the 130th running of the Kentucky Derby from his home in San Gabriel. The Run For the Roses will be simulcast between races at Hollywood Park.