Charles Howard is known for owning Seabiscuit, but what about his other history-making runner, Noor? Lorraine Jackson has the scoop on this tall, dark and handsome son of Nasrullah.
It seemed fitting on this post-derby week to share a racehorse story. The story of Noor is a particular favorite of mine because this old feller has a story that makes him as amazing in death as he was in life.
Noor, son of the great Nasrullah, was born in Ireland in 1945 as the last year of WWII trudged on. For the first 3 years of his career, the dark, glossy, 17 hand colt was an above average stakes horse in England, showing or placing but only winning in England once. His performance caused his owners to sell him overseas, to the now legendary owner of Seabiscuit, Charles S. Howard, who would put him into training with Burley Parke. That’s when Noor seemed to truly come to life.
On February 25, 1950, Noor soundly beat American Triple Crown winner Citation in an enormous upset at the Santa Anita Handicap. People called it a fluke until Noor went on the beat Citation 3 more consecutive times that year. Likewise, Noor also soundly defeated 1950 Horse of the Year Hill Prince, Derby winner Ponder, and twice overtook another Triple Crown winner, Assault, making Noor the only horse in American racing history to defeat two Triple Crown winners.
After his extraordinary year in 1950, Noor was retired to stud at Howard’s Ridgewood Ranch, then to Binglin Stable, and finally at age 19 to Loma Rica Ranch in Grass Valley, California. Loma Rica was also where Noor would encounter the now legendary trainer John Shirreffs, trainer of Zenyatta. In an article in Bloodhorse, Shirreffs adored Noor, saying “There wasn’t much to do in the winter, so I’d put the tack on him and ride him around in the back arena. He had a great personality. He was a beautiful black horse with real high withers and you could tell by looking at him he was a very special horse.”
Noor died on November 16, 1974 at the age of 29, after developing equine dementia, and supposedly his caretakers “cried like babies” when he died. Like most horses of the day, Noor was buried in an unmarked grave in the infield at Loma Rica. Though mostly ignored in the annals of Racing History, he was finally inducted into the U.S National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2002, and one would think that was where Noor’s story ended. But like the great campaign of 1950, it seemed Noor had one last story in him.
In 2009, Loma Rica was forced to close its doors, and plans were underway to develop the sprawling farm into a business park and condominiums. It was around this time that racing enthusiast Charlotte Farmer caught wind of the story, and instead of feeling devastated but hopeless about Noor being under a parking lot, she decided to do something about it.
Farmer contacted the veterinarian who euthanized Noor to help locate his remains and paid for a ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint him. The landowners agreed to give Farmer 18 months to complete the disinterment and reburial. She then made arrangements for a new burial plot and headstone when Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky happily agreed to accept Noor’s remains if Farmer could get them there.
On August 26, 2011, it took several hours and many failed attempts to finally find Noor. The only remnants of the oft overlooked racing legend were his “leg bones, hip bones, two horse shoes, and decomposed matter” (Salt Lake Tribune). He was laid in a wooden box that had been marked with Charles Howard’s racing silks logo, the triangle H, and Farmer immediately began the cross country trek. Because of Farmer’s persistence, passion, and absolute refusal to take no for an answer, Noor was officially laid in what is hopefully his final resting place on August 31, 2011.
Burying a horse is something many of us have had to do, or didn’t have the luxury of doing. Often the only thing we can hold onto of the horses that shaped us is the legend, the offspring, and the memories. But occasionally, we have the chance to honor a horse with a piece of earth that befits a king. As Charlotte Farmer so perfectly put it, “He deserves damn better than a parking lot of a building for his final epitaph.”
Thank you, Charlotte.
Many thanks to Bloodhorse.com, Charlotte Farmer, and the Noor Fans Facebook Page. For more on Noor and Old Friends, visit *Noor: In Memory of a Champion on Facebook.