He is the horse who had a famous rivalry with a Triple Crown winner. And before Exceller came along, this Irish-bred son of legendary sire Nasrullah earned the distinction of being the first horse to beat two winners of that exclusive club.
Along with those highlights, he put together a laudable career that turned him into a California legend.
In total, Noor made thirty-one starts in his career, with nearly half of them taking place in Great Britain. Part of the stakes action at palaces like Epsom and Newmarket, Noor came up with some stakes wins, but he was not exactly a consistent sort. He had his share of results outside the top three, and a couple wins came against a small field. Even so, he owned victories sprinting and routing, so the versatility was there.
Originally owned by HH Aga Khan III and trained by Frank Butters, Noor spent the 1947 and 1948 seasons in Europe before arriving in Northern California during the fall of 1949. Now owned by Charles Howard of Seabiscuit fame, Noor made his Bay Meadows debut for conditioner Burley Parke a winning one when he defeated allowance company going six furlongs. That was his only victory of the year, but he picked up minor awards in various stakes going into early 1950.
Sometimes a horse will get better as he gets older, and Noor is a perfect example of this. Simply put, 1950 was his year. In twelve starts, he was never worse than third, and this was the year where he had his legendary rivalry with 1948 Triple Crown champion Citation. Big Cy missed the entire 1949 campaign, but was back at five years old to pick up where he left off. The two met five times during the spring and summer, doing battle at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. The record was lopsided, with Citation only beating Noor one time in the 1950 San Antonio Handicap (though Citation actually finished second in the race). Though still a consistent horse, the Citation of 1950 was not like the Citation of 1948. But the Noor of 1950 was not the Noor of 1949, either.
Accustomed to rallying from off the pace, Noor's schedule at five consisted exclusively of route races. He gave Charles Howard one more victory in the Santa Anita and San Juan Capistrano Handicaps, and went on either win or place in more stakes between Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields and Belmont Park during the spring and summer months. Following a runner-up finish to future Horse of the Year Hill Prince in Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup, it was back to Hollywood Park. And the track of the Lakes and Flowers would serve as host to two of Noor's finest moments.
About two months removed from the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Noor dominated an allowance field that featured 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault. It may not have come in a major stakes race, but Noor made history in front of the Hollypark patrons as he became the first horse to own victories over two winners of the Triple Crown. It has since gone on to be one of the rarest achievements, with only Exceller duplicating it in 1978.
Interestingly, Noor is connected to more than one Triple Crown. Aside from beating Assault and Citation, Noor's dam was Bahram, who won the English Triple Crown back in 1935. You will not find a Triple Crown race win on Noor's resume, but classics still came his way after arriving in North America. It started with the Big 'Cap, but another one was on the horizon.
Eight days after beating Assault, Noor was entered in the Hollywood Gold Cup, which boasted the same ten furlong distance as the Big 'Cap. The last race was clearly a tune up, and now he was facing quite a field for Hollywood Park's grandest prize. The Gold Cup lured Hill Prince out West, and joining them were 1949 Kentucky Derby winner Ponder; 1950's Champion Three-Year Filly Next Move; and 1947 Santa Anita Derby winner On Trust, among others.
The 1950 Hollywood Gold Cup boasted good horses, but the public liked Noor's chances to win. Sent out as the odds-on favorite, he and regular rider John Longden stayed in the back at first. But the pace was fast, and the race set up perfectly for Noor. He dispatched much of the opposition before only having Hill Prince and Palestinian left to take down. Palestinian got the lead from Hill Prince, but Noor gave the fans something to remember as he caught both horses on the outside and capped his career with a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup. That made Noor only the third horse after Kayak II and Seabiscuit to win the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup. And only Kayak II had won the two races in the same year before Noor.
After compiling a record of twelve wins, six seconds and six thirds, Noor was retired from the races. He picked up Top Handicap honors for a season that featured some world and stakes clockings, but what he also did was build the foundation to become part of California racing's pantheon:
-Before Noor, no winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup ran the race in under two minutes. Noor, whose Gold Cup time was 1:59.80, held that record for several years until Rejected topped it in 1955.
-He finished the 1950 Big 'Cap in 2:00 flat, which was the benchmark for the grand race for much of the decade until Round Table went even faster in 1958.
-He is one of the early imports to make an impact in California, and he won at different distances as well as dirt and turf.
-He is the only horse to have won the Big 'Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and San Juan Capistrano in the same year.
Just with that one productive season, Noor assured he would never be forgotten. And he is not forgotten. The Blood-Horse ranked him #69 in their list of top 100 Thoroughbreds of the 20th century, and he was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 2002.
Starting in 2014, the Arcadia Historical Society started the Walk of Champions, honoring Thoroughbreds and people who have made a significant impact on local racing. The Walk of Champions has grown to feature dozens of plaques along Huntington Drive in Arcadia, and you can find Noor's near the Derby Restaurant. New racing fans now have the opportunity to learn about the legends of yesteryear, including Noor.
Following retirement, Noor divided his stallion career between three places, all of them in California. First came Charles Howard's Ridgewood Ranch, where Seabiscuit once lived. Then he moved over to the Howard Stock Farm, which was previously known as the Binglin Stock Farm (crooner Bing Crosby and Howard's son Lin co-owned Thoroughbreds). Finally, Noor went to Loma Rica Ranch, where he lived to the grand age of twenty-nine.
Noor saw success as a stallion, siring close to 140 winners and thirteen stakes winners from approximately 250 named foals.
When he passed in 1974, Noor was buried at Loma Rica. He stayed there well into the next century, but news of the ranch being developed brought forth a successful effort in locating him in 2011. He is now at Old Friends in Kentucky, and his name is still very much a part of the racing history books.
Thoroughbred racing in the modern era sees imports coming on a regular basis, and this rings true for the Southern California circuit. In that regard, Noor's legacy is more than a stakes winner or champion.
The horse whose name means "light" in Arabic was one of the early imports to find success in the Southland. For that, he can rightly be called a trailblazer.
Noor's stallion information and statistics: Noor-American Classic Pedigrees. http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com/noor-ire.html