We’re pretty sure that if Charlotte Farmer were writing this, she would tell you that saving a part of our thoroughbred history isn’t as simple as writing an article about her efforts to ensure a dignified and final resting place for a great champion. Of course, she would add how honoured she is to have the support of Steve Haskin, Bill Dwyre and others who have championed her cause and encouraged us to get involved any way we can.
Our purpose in publishing this commentary and photo of Noor is to salute Charlotte Farmer for being the (albeit modest) heroine that she is.
In Charlotte’s foresight and wisdom, we are reminded that the past relies upon us to keep it safe, vibrant and accessible to new generations. History is, of course, a living narrative. It is meant to be visioned and re-visioned over time. Characters are added, perspectives are changed, lessons-to-be-learned are tweaked and sometimes, completely overhauled. This is how historians and history lovers keep the past alive for the rest of us.
Charlotte is keeping Noor’s history alive in the same way. Suddenly, people are talking about Noor and digging into his history to retrieve nuggets of interest to thoroughbred owner and fan alike. We at THE VAULT were moved to pour through a stack of old Thoroughbred Times magazines to repatriate the photo above. Then we read Noor’s racing story, as it appeared in American Race Horses (of) 1950.
In this sequel to Noor’s story, we are able to appreciate how the past and the present exist in a kind of dynamic co-dependance. That in the year 2011 one woman would fight to preserve the memory of a thoroughbred born in 1945 warms the soul. Charlotte’s resolve to reach her goal, together with her commitment to Noor, remind us that what we do today is how we will be remembered tomorrow.
Everything we do — and don’t do — has a direct impact on our lives and on the world. But this doesn’t mean that we need to do something earth-shattering to make a difference. Upon arriving in a village where they would teach people how to read and write, the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, gathered his team around him. He asked them to sit quietly and just observe the life of the village, since he believed that literacy only counted if it touched people’s lives in direct and meaningful ways. After a time, Freire observed, “Do you see that woman over there, who is making a bowl out of clay? Before she started to make it, the bowl did not exist in the world. Now that she is throwing the clay and shaping the bowl, her family and friends will eat from it. They will laugh, talk together, solve problems and make decisions as they eat from this clay bowl. And the world will be different because this one clay bowl, made in a village in Brazil, has come into the world.”
Changing the world requires us to act, rather than simply to think about acting. It wasn’t enough for Charlotte to hope that Noor’s grave would be respected. She needed to act on behalf of a great thoroughbred and his place in racing history.
Actions that aim to make our world a better place are selfless. They are selfless in the sense that they present themselves to us as something we find we can’t ignore. They call to us. And when we respond, our actions are motivated by love, generosity and a sense of responsibility. Such is the case with Charlotte, who has worked tirelessly for over the last three years to assure that Noor’s memory (rather than her own contribution) remain the focus of her effort.
Charlotte Farmer teaches us these values and beliefs anew in her heroic journey to rescue Noor from complete annihilation. Already the power of that learning has changed our thinking: Skip Away, it would seem, may also be interred at Old Friends, where Noor is to be given his final resting place. And questions are being asked about the whereabouts of other thoroughbreds, such as Omaha. The thoroughbred community has been stirred to reflect more profoundly about its commitment to the animals that are its raison d’etre.
Thank you, Charlotte, for all that you have taught us.
The belief and passion that guides you is clearly Noor — a sacred light that you have the heart to see and the wisdom to cherish.
(NOTE: Donations for Noor may be made directly to Old Friends online or through traditional mail. Every donation counts! Please make sure that you indicate that your donation is to benefit Noor. )
BELOW IS A REPRINT OF BILL DWYRE’S ARTICLE ON NOOR THAT WAS PUBLISHED IN LATE JUNE IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.
Noor deserves a resting place befitting a champion
There are plans to build condominiums on the grounds where the thoroughbred is buried, but $5,000, which the woman leading the effort hopes to raise, will pay to get him a resting place in Kentucky.
That new resting place will make at least one prominent person in the sport very happy.
Trainer John Shirreffs, winner of a Kentucky Derby with Giacamo and steward of the unprecedented career of Zenyatta, remembers Loma Rica Ranch as acres of sprawling green, with undulating hills and “white fences for as far as you could see.”
There could be no better description of the horse farms around Lexington.
Noor was an Irish bred who performed well in Europe as a 3-year-old, including a third-place finish in the Epsom Derby in 1948, an impressive showing for a young horse in a field of 32. But he didn’t improve as much as expected, and eventually was put on the market. Charles Howard, who had achieved the fame of ownership with Seabiscuit in the late 1930s, wanted to buy a horse named Nahoo and could only achieve that if Noor came along in the deal. Howard paid $175,000 for both, and wasn’t happy about the price.
Noor had much to learn. In Europe, horses raced mostly on grass and clockwise. But with trainer Burley Parke and jockey Johnny Longden as teachers, and the 1950 season underway, Noor took his learning curve to the turns at Santa Anita. The expectations were low, but by the end of the year, the statuesque-looking, 17-hands, who had won barely $40,000 in Europe, would add $350,000 to his winnings.
He faced Citation in an early race at Santa Anita and lost. That surprised few. Citation was, after all, the 1948 Triple Crown winner. A few weeks later, they would hook up again in the Santa Anita Handicap and this time, the surprise was real. Noor won, and would do so in races against Citation three more times in 1950.
And if that wasn’t enough, in the then-late-season Hollywood Gold Cup, Noor went up against the 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault, and beat him, too. Noor was the first horse to beat two Triple Crown champions, a distinction that, alone, makes it essential that racing protect his dignity at all times.
Noor was retired to stud in his sixth year, and eventually ended up at Loma Rica, a ranch managed for 37 years by Henry Freitas, who died 10 years ago. His daughter, Roxanne, lives nearby and frequently drives past the old ranch, which hasn’t been a breeding and training facility since 1984. In her 20s, she worked the ranch alongside another young man.
“John Shirreffs was like part of our family,” she says.
Farmer, who has researched those days meticulously, says: “Only two people, John, and a man named Lou Machado, were allowed to ride Noor in his retirement days.”
Shirreffs recalls: “Noor had the stall in the corner, the first stall. He was the No. 1 horse.”
Farmer has no personal stake in her campaign to take get Noor back to a proper resting spot. She says she discovered the situation a few years ago, while skimming author Laura Hillenbrand’s website about her Seabiscuit book. She got permission from Howard’s great-great grandson to pursue getting Noor’s remains out of harm’s way, and she has been steadfast in that ever since.
She tried the Southern California tracks first, got logical answers from Del Mar (it’s a state-owned facility and probably at too low a ground level for such a burial) and from Hollywood Park (it might be condos before Loma Rica). She said Santa Anita President George Haines remained noncommittal. Haines says he had been looking for a spot, but had been told Farmer had found a place.
Noor died Nov. 16, 1974. He was 29. The body was still willing and able, but he was put down, suffering from dementia.
Last March, when Farmer got a crew with equipment to locate Noor and the box he was in, they were guided by directions from Shirreffs.
“He said Henry Freitas would bury him pointing East, toward the barns,” she says. “And that’s exactly where he was.”
by Bill Dwyre
8:49 p.m. CDT, June 20, 2011