1950: Six Races, Two Triple Crown Champions, and One Fantastic Noor
Back in the days when he competed in England, Noor put together a mixed bag of results. Starting only on turf in his two seasons across the pond, this son of highly regarded stallion Nasrullah compiled some wins and placings, but there were some finishes out of the money to round out his record. But he found his way into some prestigious races, taking third in the Epsom Derby and Eclipse Stakes.
As far as first place was concerned, Noor was successful at routing, winning races at 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 miles at vaunted tracks like Epsom and Newmarket. He could not be called a win machine based on his work in Great Britain, but this brown colt from Ireland who had been bred by HH Aga Khan possessed class. And that class would in time be unleashed.
Noor's North American debut came in the autumn of 1949. The year saw him move from the care of Frank Butters to Burley Parke, as well as the ownership from Aga Khan to Charles S. Howard, the man who bought Seabiscuit in the mid-1930's. Based in Northern California, Noor continued to display the consistency evident in England, winning a race and placing in some others while stopping at Bay Meadows and Tanforan. But greater things were in store for the regal-looking newcomer.
With Santa Anita Park hosting live racing in the winter of 1950, Noor was sent south to take part in the meeting. Meeting him there was the grand horse Citation, back from a year off the shelf. Having a Triple Crown winner on the track was huge, and Big Cy was no doubt a special attraction on race days. Like Noor, Citation had British racing in his veins. Both horses were actually descendants of English Triple Crown winners: related to Citation was 1915 winner Gainsborough, while Noor had ties to 1935 champion Bahram.
It goes without saying that each horse had merit just on racing ability. But given how their bloodlines traversed over generations of European racing history, maybe it was inevitable the two stately Thoroughbred would meet on track.
The first meeting between Citation and Noor came in the 1950 San Antonio Handicap, long the traditional prelude to the Santa Anita Handicap. Each of them were coming off a second in their previous starts; Noor was last seen in the San Carlos Stakes, while Big Cy had taken part in a minor handicap contest. Understandably, Citation was favored, made odds-on by the public. Noor hovered around 5-1.
Noor and Citation may have shared a common bond in pedigree, but they were polar opposites in running style. Big Cy tended to stay close to the pace, if not lead early. Noor, on the other hand, rallied from behind. That set up the possibility of the two meeting late in a race, generating an electric feeling as they battled for supremacy. Each horse could handle routing, so it was not a stretch to imagine either equine being in the mix at the end.
For those who were familiar with how Citation and Noor typically ran, the San Antonio largely held to form. Citation, was a few lengths off the pace at one point, but got much closer to the front. Noor was farther back before he and John Longden started to come on. They were close to each other at the end, but neither of them won. The trophy went to Ponder, who handed Citation only his fourth career loss at that point of the Triple Crown winner's career. Noor checked in third.
The pair's next start came in the Santa Anita Handicap, and the 1950 version was already historic thanks to the presence of Citation. No Triple Crown champion had ever raced at the venue since its 1934 opening. It was thought he would win the race, too, for he was less than even money once again. Noor went off at a bigger price than he did in the San Antonio, but somewhat different tactics were employed. Longden and Noor stayed much closer to the pace than usual. Citation and Eddie Arcaro were in their usual position of not being too far back.
Once the Big 'Cap was finished, both horses were in the money again. But only one had improved his position from the San Antonio. That was Noor, whose experience in running in classic distances in England shined through at Santa Anita. He also became one of the few horses at the time to defeat Citation, which was no small accomplishment.
Less than a year after his first start in California, Noor could now be called a champion of the state's biggest Thoroughbred race.
The tale of Noor and Citation lasted three more races: The San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita, and the Forty-Niners and Golden Gate Handicaps at Golden Gate Fields. They swept first and second in all three of those showdowns, and all three of them featured the same order of finish: Noor in first, Citation in second. The Golden Gate Handicap also featured an added bonus for the winner as he set a new world record of 1:58 1/5 for ten furlongs.
It is clear that the 1950 Citation was not the same Citation from 1947 and 1948. He was still consistent, and he could still win. But he was not the nearly unstoppable force he once had been. But that does not take away anything that Noor accomplished, either. Noor knew how to compete, had proved capable of winning, and had already taken down distances of ten furlongs or more in England. He was a worthy
More top two results (including a second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup) found Noor throughout the summer and fall, and he notched those at Hollywood Park and Belmont Park. Returning to the Track of the Lakes and Flowers in the closing months of 1950, another Triple Crown winner crossed the Irish-bred horse's path: Assault.
Sent to Hollywood Park in the autumn, Assault won after a year on the bench, defeating allowance company just before Thanksgiving in a seven furlong spin. Next came another allowance on the main track at the beginning of December, only this one was a mile and an eighth. Meeting him in the starting gate was Noor.
The latter's consistency won out in the wagering, with Noor the odds-on choice. But Assault had plenty of backing at the windows, going off at under 2-1.
Noor again abandoned his normal modus operandi, tracking the pace closely. Assault battled for the early lead, taking it at one point. But Noor was riding a wave of momentum that had been in effect since the San Pasqual Stakes in January. Finishing second in what was his 5-year-old debut, Noor had not been out of the top three all year long. That was not changing now.
Assault would have to be content with third. As for Noor, he won the allowance for fun by seven lengths, setting him up perfectly for the Hollywood Gold Cup eight days later. But this small allowance contest accomplished more than that. History can happen at any time at a racetrack, and it radiated through Hollywood Park on December 1, 1950.
The moment Noor crossed the wire, he carved a unique place for himself in racing history. There were eight Triple Crown champions dating back to Sir Barton in 1919. None of them had retired undefeated, but no horse had ever beaten more than one member of that exalted group. Except for Noor.
First came Citation in February, and then Assault in December. But, the story runs deeper. He beat Citation four times, and Assault twice. Six victories against a pair of Triple Crown winners. It is an astounding feat, and one that the turf may never see again. The only horse to come close is Exceller, who famously defeated Seattle Slew and Affirmed, the ninth and tenth Triple Crown champions, in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Given the rarity of a horse sweeping the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, there is an excellent chance that no horse will accomplish what Noor did when he met Citation and Assault in 1950.
A grandson of an English Triple Crown winner defeated two American Triple Crown winners multiple times. That achievement brings with it an ironic, and very cosmic, mystique.