Noor: Remembering the Light

Updated: Apr 10, 2019

Noor was a light that burned bright for Charles S. Howard. Howard is most known for owning Seabiscuit and few know that he owned other great horses. Noor was Howard’s final mark on the racing world; Noor retired the same year that Howard passed away. Although Noor is regarded as one of racing’s greats, he is often overlooked and rarely talked about. Being aware of this horse’s accomplishments is crucial in understanding the history of the sport.

Noor was born in 1945 in Ireland. He was a son of the five-time leading sire Nashrulla. His dam, Queen of Baghdad, was a daughter of English Triple Crown winner Bahram. He was large with a black coat and a small star and a sock. Though beautiful, he had inherited his sire’s nasty temperament.

Photo from the Keeneland Library Morgan Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

His career began in England. He was raced by his owner/breeder HH Aga Khan II and trained by Frank Butters. Noor made his debut for those two men in 1947, placing third and then winning the Bradgate Park Nursery Stakes. The next year he managed to win the Diomed Stakes and the Great Foal Stakes and placed third in both the Epsom Derby and Eclipse Stakes. Although he was performing decently, there was not much that would make people believe that he would be a great American racehorse.

Noor’s owner, Aga Khan, also owned an Irish Derby winner named Nathoo (also by Nashrulla). Charles S. Howard had caught interest in the horse after watching him in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in 1948. Howard contacted Khan and insisted in buying the horse. Khan was willing to part with him, but not without adding Noor to the deal. Howard accepted the “two for one” deal, paying $175,000 to add Noor and Nathoo to his collection of racehorses.

Now in California, Noor developed osselets. Knowing that this would lead to permanent arthritis if Noor was not rested, Howard took his horse out of the races until October of 1949. After being given a significant time to rest and adjust to life in the United States, Noor was sent to trainer Burley Parke to prepare to become an American racehorse. The relocation worked well for Noor and he began to adjust, managing to finish second in the San Francisco Handicap and also managing to get two third place finishes in handicaps at Tanforan Rack Track.

In February of 1950, Noor was entered into the San Antonio Handicap alongside one of racing’s most recognizable names: Citation. Seven races had went by for Noor in America before he faced Citation for the very first time. Like Noor, Citation had taken a year off for osselets and this was only his third race back. In the first of five meetings between Noor and Citation, Noor finished third. Citation had finished second, unable to catch Ponder.

Noor at Saratoga, August of 1950. Photo from the Keeneland Library Morgan Collection. This image is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in print or electronically without written permission of the Keeneland Library.

Just two weeks later, the two met again in the Santa Anita Handicap. Noor carried 110 pounds, Citation carried 132. With less weight on his back, Noor soared home to a 1 ¼ length win in track record time (2:00 for 1 ¼ miles). In just one more week, the two had a rematch in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap. This time, Citation put up a greater fight but it was Noor whom was able to put his nose on the line first. He had set a new American record for 1 ¾ miles by finishing the race in 2:52 ⅘ . By winning, Noor became the first horse to defeat Citation twice.

On June 6th, 1950, Charles Howard passed away. Although he did not see what else Noor would accomplish in that year, he had passed on knowing that he owned one of the greatest handicap horses of that year. On the 17th, Noor won the Forty-Niners Handicap over Citation, setting yet another world record of 1 ⅛ miles in 1:46 ⅘. Afterwards, he met Citation for the fifth and final time in the Golden Gate Handicap. This time, Noor carried one more pound than Citation and was still able to win in world record time of 1:58 ⅕ for 1 ¼ miles.

One month later, Noor won the American Handicap carrying 132 pounds. Afterwards, Parke sent his horse to New York, hoping to increase the horse’s chances of winning Horse of the Year. The trip to New York didn’t produce any wins, but was not a failure. Noor finished second in the Manhattan Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and another stakes race. Noor was shipped back home to California to finish out his racing career that December. At home he won an 1 ⅛ allowance, setting yet another track record. He finished out the season with a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup, setting a track record of 1:59 ⅘ for 1 ¼ miles at Hollywood Park.

Noor retired that year as the first horse to defeat two Triple Crown winners, having gotten the best of both Citation and Assault in 1950. His record stood as 31:12-5-3 and he had earned $356,940. He went home to Charles Howard’s near Moorpark, California where he lived until he was moved to Loma Rica Ranch. Throughout his second career as a stud, Noor sired thirteen stakes winners. His daughters produced thirty-four stakes winners including Dancer’s Image whom was disqualified from first in the 1968 Kentucky Derby. Had prohibited drugs not been found in Dancer’s Image’s system after the win, Noor would have the title of damsire of a Kentucky Derby winner. John Sherriffs (now a famous trainer of horses like Zenyatta) recalls how he would tack Noor up and ride him around the back arena during Noor’s retirement.

Under the California sun, Noor blossomed. Under that same sun, Noor’s light was put out. November 6th, 1974, marked the final day of Noor’s twenty-nine long years of life. Those who loved him mourned as he was buried in an unmarked grave at Loma Rica.

Many years after his death, Loma Rica closed its doors. His remains were found on August 26th, 2011. They were laid in a wooden box marked with Howard’s logo. Making one final cross country trek, Noor arrived at Old Friends in Kentucky. Now under a headstone that commemorates his greatness, Noor rests. From time to time, flowers lay on his grave in remembrance of the times they had laid across his withers.


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