ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED JANUARY 2011
I live in a small town at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. You might know of it if I said, “Tahoe” but I really live in Grass Valley.
Anyway, besides the huge California Gold Rush history here (yes, I am constantly looking down and kicking shiny spots in the dirt…), there are many famous sites I’ve discovered. One of them is Loma Rica Ranch.
I’m not a race horse person. I’m not really a fan of the industry but I do appreciate some aspects of the game. I certainly rooted for Zenyatta and I have interviewed certain trainers who I greatly admired. But, when recalling this story, I have to be honest that I had only heard the name Noor in fleeting wisps of partial memory. I had no idea that a celebrity lived out his days here in Grass Valley.
His name was Noor (it means “light”) and he was famous for besting Citation 4 times. He won the most money in 1950.
What I find so fascinating about him was his story… You see, Noor was born in England. And, he would have stayed there, possibly in obscurity, if Charles Howard (of Seabiscuit fame) hadn’t made a “two-fer” deal.
Howard wanted to bring a Nearco line stud to California. He decided to bargain with Aga Khan for his gray Irish Derby winner, Nathoo, a son of Nasrullah. But, in order to get him, he had to take Noor as well – Noor had raced as a 2-3 year old in England to not much success. Howard paid $175,000 for the package and felt Noor had been way overpriced.
And, it seemed that Howard was correct in that Noor arrived with a swollen ankle and proceeded to form osselets. So, he was turned out at Howard’s San Ysidro ranch. (I wish I could be turned out in any San Ysidro ranch -beautiful area…).
After a year of retraining, Noor was notorious as a bad boy, he emerged on the track again as the oldster at age 5.
Noor raced and he bloomed even with this “deficit” of age (hmmmmm, interesting tidbit…). It was in this year that Noor had four consecutive wins over the front runner, Citation. (I want to note that both horses had been beaten by Ponder in the San Antonio Handicap.)
Anyway, no one thought Noor would beat Citation. In their first competition at Santa Anita, Noor carried 22lbs and beat Citation by a length. One week later, at San Juan Capistrano, Noor had 13 less pounds than Citation, the head-to-head duel was slightly bested by Noor in a photo finish. Three months later, they met again at Golden Gate Fields (my hometown) with Noor carrying only 5 pounds less than Citation. Here, Noor set a World’s Record! The next week, they were racing again at Golden Gate Fields and Noor carried one more pound than Citation. Noor beat his own World Record for the 10 furlongs in 1:58 while coasting to a three length win.
I guess you could say that Noor had a good year…
AS A STUD
Again, I don’t know if this is good or bad, but Noor sired 13 stakes winners. He was also the leading Broodmare sire in 1967 and 1968.
Somehow, when Noor was 19, he was brought up to Frederick Knoop’s ranch here in Grass Valley called Loma Rica. Here, Noor stayed, happily, until his death in 1979 at age 29. Noor is buried at Loma Rica.
This is where I come in…
Loma Rioa Ranch is a still glorious but almost completely abandoned racehorse facility up here in Grass Valley. The place is shrouded in the enticing mystery cloak of “I wish I could ride there” from all of us trail riders around here. The place is huge, gorgeous, has water running through it and is filled with the ghosts of racehorses past – literally…
You see, Loma Rica is privately owned but a small organic farm is run out of there. So, we regular folks are allowed to come onto the premises during fruit and vegetable season. At that time, we wander only around a very small portion of the estate. And, if we get on our tippy toes, we can almost see the vast racetrack and beyond…
So, I was up at the fruitstand one day last summer. It is located inside the main antique barn, beyond the famous gates, up on the first rolling hill of Loma Rica. You can tell that the fruitstand is in a barn but the stalls have been long overtaken by storage items and dust. One isn’t supposed to go past the first few stalls which house the market. There is a rope and you shouldn’t cross that line.
Of course, I was curious… and the whole place just felt alive even though nothing was back there in the huge, abandoned race barn, except maybe mice and nesting skunks.
Luckily, I really had to go to the bathroom while I was there. The caretaker told me that I could use the bathroom “just this once” as I told him it was an emergency. He lifted the ropes partitioning the other side of the barn and he told me to go to the very far end and turn right… I stepped under and walked the entire aisleway by myself – slowly.
Wow. The place seemed so alive and full of memories. I could almost feel the electricity in the air. I peeked into several of the HUGE stalls and even though it was dark, I could make out forms of boxes and forgotten bygones that had no business living in these grand stalls. Not being able to contain myself, I slipped into one of the empty stalls at the far end… Once inside, I swear I was transported. I could almost hear the noises and feel the vibrancy of the days gone by. Wow. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was traveling back in time. It was so odd but exciting at the same time.
As I walked back up to the front of the barn near the little organic food stand, I heard an argument.
The mother caretaker was arguing with her son. They didn’t know I could hear. The son was distressed and told his mother that he didn’t want to be in the barn after dark. The mother was insisting that he do some chore which would keep him in the barn past darkness.
She told him he was trying to get out of work and that nothing was going to hurt him. He pleaded with his mother not to make him stay in the barn after dark. The son kept saying, “I can hear them and it scares me! They yell and the horses scream all night!”
Wha? No horses reside at Loma Rica.
I came around the corner and blurted, “Are you saying that these barns are haunted?”
They both nodded.
I was shocked but had to hear more. “How?”
Excitedly, the boy told me that after dark, he can hear the horses chewing or vocalizing. He also hears footsteps throughout the barns and the noises of a loud card game or dice game.
The mother agreed that she, too, had heard horses trotting through the barns and she has heard voices and laughter in the barns at night.
I asked if they were the only ones who heard these noises. They both said, NO. Everyone who stays in the barns at night hears something. It is just ‘known” that you don’t go into the barns at night unless you want to be scared.
Then the father caretaker came in and said that he didn’t find it scary at all. He said that all the horses here were treated like royalty and this was a very happy barn. He said that is why all the spirits stay here.
The father leaned against the old barn wall and said to me, “It was and still is, one of the most beautiful and peaceful places on earth – for a horse or for a man.”