An effort is being made to disinter Hall of Famer Noor and transfer the horse’s remains to Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky.
Noor would be placed in Old Friends’ proposed new cemetery that will be reserved for Hall of Fame inductees. The cemetery will be located near the entrance of the farm in a garden-like setting for all to see as they drive in.
Noor was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame in 2002 and would join Precisionist, who is currently buried at Old Friends, and likely Skip Away, who is interred at Hopewell Farm, near Midway, Ky. Old Friends’ founder Michael Blowen has had productive talks with Skip Away’s owner Carolyn Hine and Hopewell’s Rick Trontz in regard to getting the horse transferred.
Noor currently is buried in an unmarked grave inside a half-mile training track on Loma Rica Ranch in Grass Valley, Cal., where he lived until his death in 1974 at age 29.
Loma Rica, however, has had to close down and development plans are on the table that would turn the training track into a business park, with the remainder of the ranch to become part of a housing community.
The project to move Noor to Old Friends is spearheaded by Charlotte Farmer, with the help of Blowen and Kittredge Collins, great-great grandson of Noor’s owner Charles Howard, who is best known as the owner of Seabiscuit.
Loma Rica’s veterinarian, Dr. John Peek, who euthanized Noor, was aware of the general vicinity where the horse was buried, but it took a GPR (ground penetrating radar) to locate the exact spot. That spot has since been marked with flags. An agreement was signed to give the principals involved 18 months to remove the horse, which expires in May of 2012. Farmer, who crunched all the figures, says it will take slightly over $5,600 to disinter Noor and ship him to Old Friends. As of now, less than $800 in donations has been received.
Loma Rica, a 450-acre property that was built by Earl McBoyle of the Idaho Maryland Mine, was later purchased by William Gilmore following McBoyle’s death. The goal was to make Loma Rica as beautiful and prestigious a Thoroughbred facility as one would find in Kentucky.
Under the guidance of ranch manager of 37 years, Henry Freitas, the ranch prospered and a half-mile training track ultimately was built with the assistance of Gilmore’s friend, legendary jockey Johnny Longden, who was the regular rider of Noor.
One of those who worked for Freitas at Loma Rica was a young aspiring horseman named John Shirreffs, who worked closely with Noor.
“I had just come out of the Marines and was trying to find my way, and ended up in Grass Valley,” Shirreffs recalled. “I remember Noor was in the first stall on the right hand side of the barn and in the first paddock, and he always did everything first. He was pretty old even then. I probably was the last person to ever breed him, because I would help Henry with the breeding during the winter. 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.”
As for his unmarked grave, Shirreffs said, “They didn’t mark any of the graves. With most of the mares, when we put them to sleep we would bring them up to a hill behind the paddocks and bury them there. But because it was Noor and he was a famous racehorse, they buried him in the infield of the training track.”
Loma Rica currently is owned by the Ronald Getty Trust, which has been cooperative in helping to locate Noor’s burial site and eventually having the horse exhumed.
“Steve Garrett, the developer and spokesperson for the Getty family, was the one who got permission for us to do the GPR,” Farmer said. “It took about an hour to an hour and a half to locate the grave. We flagged it off and then Steve Garrett agreed, along with the Gettys, to have a contract drawn up, giving us 18 months with which to lift Noor out of his grave. It was a wonderful gesture on their part. They could have said this was private property and they were not obligated to do anything. All people knew was that there was this Charles Howard horse of some substance buried somewhere near the training track.”
Farmer became involved with Noor three years ago when she found out through Freitas’ daughter, Roxanne, that Noor had been buried without any marker and basically was just put in the ground.
“The more I got to know about Noor the more I got sucked into his world,” Farmer said. “It was just amazing to learn about this horse. Dr. Peek said three men cried like babies when they had to euthanize him after he had developed a form dementia. He was still tall and regal and still had the look of eagles. I would go out to the grave site, but all I knew was that somewhere in the general vicinity was supposed to be Noor.”
Bred in Ireland, Noor was pretty much a handicap horse in England before finishing third in the 1948 English Derby in a 32-horse field at odds of 22-1. He followed that up with another third, beaten a neck, in the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. His only stakes victory came in the 1 1/2-mile Diomed Stakes at Epsom, 15 days after the Eclipse.
He was sent to America and turned over to trainer Burley Parks. Although he was consistent and performed well in a number of stakes, it wasn’t until Feb. 25, 1950 that he began his amazing run that would put him in the Hall of Fame.
That was the date of the Santa Anita Handicap, where Noor would score his first of four consecutive stakes victories over the great Citation. After defeating the legendary Calumet horse, as well as his illustrious stablemate Two Lea, by 1 1/4 lengths in the Big Cap, Noor won the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano, edging out Citation by a nose in an epic stretch duel, in which they finished 12 1/2 lengths ahead of the third horse.
Following the death of Howard, Noor continued his dominance over Citation beating the 1948 Triple Crown winner in the Forty-Niners Handicap and Golden Gate Handicap. Although he had been receiving weight from Citation in each of his first three victories, Noor beat him by three lengths in the Golden Gate Handicap giving him a pound.
Noor then traveled east, where he finished second in the Manhattan Handicap and Jockey Club Gold Cup. In the latter, he was defeated by Preakness winner and eventual Horse of the Year Hill Prince.
Following the Belmont meet, Noor returned to California, winning an allowance race and closing out his career with a victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup by a length under 130 pounds, in which he turned the tables on Hill Prince, who finished four lengths behind him in third. Noor covered the 1 1/4 miles in a stakes record 1:59 4/5.
“Unfortunately, Noor never received the publicity he should have,” Farmer said. “That was the year the Korean War broke out, and Howard, who was a tremendous promoter (as he showed with Seabiscuit), died that spring.”
As Farmer pointed out, if she had not stumbled onto Noor and learned about his unmarked grave site, “he would have a parking lot or a building on top of him, but destiny had something planned for him.”
But there is still the question of funding. Anyone wishing to contribute to Noor’s disinterment and move to Old Friends can send their donations via check, money order or PayPal to Old Friends, 1841 Paynes Depot Rd., Georgetown, Ky., 40324 or contact their website (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/). Please write the name Noor to specify for what your donation is intended.