Nicholas F. Trombero, who as a teen-ager rode in thoroughbred horse races on Maryland tracks, died Wednesday of pneumonia at the care center of the Charlestown Retirement Village in Catonsville, where had lived for 12 years. He was 85.
Born in New York, he moved to Baltimore and left school as a boy.
Mr. Trombero told his family he was selling newspapers in 1929 on a Pratt Street corner when a neighborhood stockbroker who had just bought two race horses stopped and asked him to become a jockey.
Two years later, on Sept 13, 1931, he rode his first race and won on a horse named Noah's Grace at the track in Timonium.
At that time, Mr. Trombero was two days shy of his 16th birthday, said his son, Victor T. Trombero of Timonium, but his father lied to the track stewards about his age so he could ride.
That was the first of about 100 horses and 150 races for Mr. Trombero, who rode at tracks throughout the United States as a jockey and later as an exercise boy.
Mr. Trombero's career as a jockey ended at age 19, when a doctor ordered him to add weight to his 86-pound, 5-foot-5-inch frame or risk tuberculosis.
But Mr. Trombero would not give up the world of race horses, his son said.
Mr. Trombero worked in Maryland exercising and sometimes training horses in the morning, then would work as an usher.
His career at racetracks was interrupted only by his World War II service in the Navy in 1944 and 1945 in North Africa, Sicily and Europe.
Mr. Trombero retired in 1985 with an award from the Maryland Racing Association.
Some called him "Dr. Dolittle" because of his ability to communicate with the high-strung thoroughbreds.
In 1950, the owner of a stakes horse named Saratoga summoned Mr. Trombero to Florida because the animal would not exercise with anyone other than Mr. Trombero on his back.
The family traveled to Florida, where "the horse came right over to my father, and went on and won the race," his son recalled.
A sportswriter said of Mr. Trombero and Saratoga: "When he asks the colt for speed, he gets it."
Also among Mr. Trombero's memorabilia is an award-winning Life magazine back-page photograph of Dec. 20, 1968, showing a perplexed Mr. Trombero and an horse at Laurel that had sat down on the track shortly after breaking from the gate and refused to budge.
Mr. Trombero was married for 47 years to Ann Toresello, who died in 1986.
A Mass of Christian burial was offered Saturday at Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at the Charlestown Retirement Village. Burial was in Woodlawn Cemetery. His casket bore the red-and-white diamond pattern of the racing silks for Alfred Vanderbilt and Sagamore Farms stable, his son said.
In addition to his son, Mr. Trombero is survived by three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.