Champion racehorse Noor given emotional send-off at Old Friends

Thoroughbred's reinterment brings fan's quest to an end

awincze@herald-leader.comSeptember 1, 2011 

GEORGETOWN — As the signature notes of Call to the Post rang out from the bugle of Keeneland's Bucky Sallee, Charlotte Farmer raised a hand to her face Wednesday at Old Friends Equine, a retirement facility for Thoroughbreds, and dabbed at the latest tears she had shed in recent days.

"The last time he heard that (Call to the Post) was at Hollywood Park," Farmer said as she stood a few feet from the floral-draped grave of the late, great racing Thoroughbred Noor.

After several years, $8,000 and 2,300 miles, the horse who was always left out of the spotlight was finally getting the celebratory send-off he deserved.

Having traveled from Loma Rica Ranch in Grass Valley, Calif., the body of the Hall of Fame champion was reinterred at Old Friends, bringing an end to a labor of love taken up by longtime racing fan Farmer about four years ago.

How the remains of Noor came to Old Friends was about as dramatic as many of the races in which the 1950 champion handicap male competed during his career. Noor — who was campaigned by owner-breeder Charles S. Howard, also the owner of Seabiscuit, after his 3-year-old season in 1948 — died in Grass Valley in 1974 at age 29 and was buried in the infield of the old Loma Rica Ranch Racetrack in an unmarked grave. The property is now in development for residential and commercial use.

After learning of what potentially would become of Noor's grave and immersing herself in every bit of research she could find about the first horse to defeat two Triple Crown winners (Citation and Assault), Farmer spearheaded efforts that raised nearly $8,000 to exhume Noor's remains and bring them to a place where he could continue to rest in peace.

"It has been a long four-year journey, and to be able to bring him here to Old Friends where he will be honored with other Hall of Fame horses that will be following him (in the cemetery) ... I like the distinction that he is the first in," said Farmer, who drove Noor's remains from California in a pickup. "Finally, he is getting his time. I felt he never got the press he deserved. Had Charles Howard lived, I really think he would have promoted Noor on the level he did Seabiscuit."

Just as trying to locate the exact spot of Noor's grave was a challenge — one that required the use of radar — getting one of racing's greats into his new grave was not without its moments.

Because dirt got mixed into the decomposed matter of Noor — who was buried whole — the 4-by-4-by-8 foot box holding his remains ended up weighing about 21/2 tons, more than the Bobcat utility vehicle at Old Friends could handle.

Eventually, the staff and other helpers were able to drag the box to the grave — the final dramatic effort of Noor's career.

"We traveled 2,300 miles, and he was waiting for this grand entrance into this hole," Farmer laughed.

Noor is the first resident of a cemetery for Hall of Fame inductees that Michael Blowen, the founder of Old Friends, is planning at the facility.

Though Noor might be joined soon by such fellow champions as Skip Away, Wednesday marked the first time Noor wasn't sharing the attention with anyone.

"It's a huge honor just being a part of this," said Gary Parke, son of Noor's trainer, Burley Parke. "I think this is kind of his legacy. He touched so many people in his early years and made a big impact on their lives. Who knew that many years later he would be doing the same thing."

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