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.”
I lived in nearby Colfax when I was a teen and I wanted, so badly, to go visit Loma Rica, I would ask my father to drive to Grass Valley via the road that went past the ranch…just to gaze on it. I had no idea that Noor would be there. This was in about 1950, or so. I sure hate to see the demise of this lovely ranch.
The horses in the ad Wallet Lifter you can read below him is Prince Little who was blind at the time. Above Noor on the other side is Pleiades ll. The paddock is one for the stallions alone Brunswick road. Across the street was pasture for some mares and cattle were occasionally used to keep the grass down. Noor was in the first stall on the right side across from the office. A friend sent me a link to this wonderful story. Henry Freitas was unique in his love for horses. He was a great horseman. People came to him all the time from miles around for his advice. His wife Edith was a mother to many and loved to play card games. She also made the best buttered popcorn. On a cold Sunday afternoon her house was open to warm up in.
I Loved reading this-my compliments to the author. We loved Noor, I spent many happy days talking to him, petting him, feeding him carrots and apples…The horses were indeed happy there. So was I. Great memories.
I saw Noor once at the Loma Rica ranch. My brother-in-law at the time was interested in buying a foal sired by Noor. His owner led him into the barn, and my jaw dropped. Noor was huge – 17 hands, if I remember correctly. He had tremendous presence, even at 19. His muscled rippled under his black, glossy coat, and his blood vessals stood out like the athlete he was. I’ve never seen a horse before or since that blew me away with sheer power and presence the way Noor did. I was in my teens at the time, and had read all The Black Stallion books as a kid. “That’s The Black.” was my instant thought when I saw Noor. If there ever was a legend come to life for me, it was Noor. I’ll never forget that day, or my sense of wonder at seeing that magnificent black horse walking just a few feet away from me.
Thanks for running this story again! I wonder if you have any information about where the ranch stands today in terms of being “developed” (aka, destroyed). I think a lot of us who either are in this area or once were and live elsewhere but still love that patch of Paradise, or even just visited a few times and yearn to live there, want to see this ranch survive. They could do it for Seabiscuit’s final home in Willits, why not here? There is such a huge horse community in your area, perhaps something could be done to preserve the ranch? I also am one who didn’t used to believe in hauntings until I bought my own place out of the estate of a trainer I’d known in the 70’s and I swear I “see” him out of the corner of my eye, most nights right after Letterman, maybe doing late night checks on the horses, nattily dressed in saddle-seat-style jods, mug in hand, fedora on his head. Just these frequent glimpses of what seems to be a very sad, very old spirit, made a “believer” out of me. I know some of his former riding students most in my age group (retired) and they’ve had similar experiences too.
Noor’s remains were removed and are now buried at “Old Friends” horse retirement facility, in Georgetown, Kentucky.
What a wonderful community center it could become. In my area a farm was left to the county. It now has a riding center, boards the county police horses, hosts a farmers market, has a dog park and is a place for hiking and picnicking. It is smack in the middle of suburbia and is delightful.
I grew up in Grass Valley in the 60’s and my Mom’s best friend was the sister of Edith Freitas. I spent so many summer days picking berries and fruit and going thru the barns at the Loma Rica. We completely had the run of the ranch. I remember the the names of Noor and Wallet Lifter on the stalls and seeing all the beautiful horses. A dream for a little girl in LOVE with horses! I’ve been away for over 30 years and have always remembered the Ranch as the one I knew as a child. Time marches on, and I am so sad to know the changes, but also so glad that I was able to experience the Loma Rica in the 1960’s.
thanks for the update on NOOR
I remember his name from my childhood..
when I had my first sub to the BH…$7 a yr when I was 11.
Nasrullah and his kin…..
Thanks for the info on Noor, Gae. Does anyone know who the other three horses are in the ad? I remember seeing at least two other horses when we’d visit…seems to me Wallet Lifter may have been one of them? And a third that was too mean to get close to. Brings back wonderful childhood memories. As far as ghosts, I’ve felt the spirit of Native Dancer in the covered track at Sagamore Farm…that’s another place I’d like to be at night!
Charlotte Farmer is organizing the removal of *Noor’s remains. Several of us locals have spoken at the Grass Valley Planning Department and City Council public meetings. We are doing our best to raise awareness of the historic importance of the ranch and its most famous residents, *Noor, The Freitas Family, John Shirrifs, and many others.
Once the remains have been removed, many of us still hope to install a monument to the memory of this great racing Champion and to tell the story of the Loma Rica Ranch as it is so beautifully described here!
Well, yes, but privately owned doesn’t necessarily mean that they “have to” turn it into yet another commercial/quasi-commercial development. Particularly small lots/big houses/businesses all crammed in together like so many cookies on a baking sheet.
There’s a principle in land use practices called “character of the area” and it just seems as though keeping the Loma Rica intact for its beauty and historical interest would be in keeping with the “character of the area” because of the long and fascinating history of the greater Sacramento/surrounding areas, from Placerville to Grass Valley and wider yet.
If the owner “needs” to develop it for purposes of taxes/wealth management/investment, then ergo OPM (“other peoples’ money”) from preservation-interested entities might be the answer; arguably, there are rewards out there in terms of profit and even tax savings. Certainly no one (especially me) repeat NO ONE is advocating grabbing the Loma Rica away from its rightful title owner for any purpose whatsoever.
I am simply expressing surprise that a property this historically significant is apparently going to fall to the bulldozers as so many other lovely historical properties have. It’s just very, very sad. But then I tend to believe that beautiful historical properties should stay that way so that future generations can appreciate them, as it seems no one but the banks appreciate rampant development – and sometimes even the banks don’t, given the increasing amount, in these terrible economic times, of defaulted developer financing.
But that’s just MHO.
The Loma Rica Ranch is privately owned. It is not available for purchase or support…
It’s shameful that this historic farm will soon be a business park! Do we really need any more of those in this country? Where is the outrage? Like Miss Jan, I can’t understand why there is no support group raising funds to help preserve this idyllic and important site! Is there no organization within the racing industry that could help to coordinate such efforts? Why no media attention? I live in the Northeast but would be willing to send a small donation. Only a drop in the bucket BUT many small drops fill the bucket. Someone needs to get the word out about this to the horse community. Historically, things like this begin with a grass-roots campaign and then gain momentum. Start the ball rolling, please!!!
Let’s try again on the blog referred to, it didn’t want to “stick” in the last post:
You will need to copy and paste – a live link doesn’t seem to want to work.
Unfortunately what is now being planned for Loma Rica has about nothing to do with horses, horse people or history. Sadly, though originally the ranch was to become a planned development it looks as though it will become yet another business park with surrounding McMansions. Here is a blog from last year that gives a bit of information about where/how Noor was buried and what is evidently to be the fate of this lovely historical property.
I am not a race fan particularly the way racing is done these days but nevertheless still thrill to the racing films/photos from the 30’s on up to about the early 60’s. In the late 50’s I was a PonyClubber D type and our vet had an own son of War Admiral; despite that horse’s advanced age he had that LOOK. The vet, an old timey racetrack vet (Longacres, Washington – now a business park too) said to me as I was gazing rapt at this HUGE red chestnut stallion “now that is the ‘look of eagles’ they all talk about, it is the Thoroughbred heart shining through their eyes.” Never forgot that, lo these many years later.
Can’t understand why there isn’t some sort of group forming to raise funds and buy out this incredibly lovely old ranch and save it from the developers – at the very least it should be a horse park and the old race barns placed on the National Register of Historic Places. If I were in your area instead of far, far north I’d sure be a-stirring of the pot on this one!
Maybe Loma Rica is haunted by spirits of horses that will only rest if it becomes a rescue or sanctuary. Wouldn’t that be something!
I spent most of my youth totally saturated with the horse world. Then, I left that world, only to re-enter it recently. How it has changed. Like many who read these blogs, I spend so much time worrying about the plight of racing TBs who just do not quite make the cut. And the other horses, ponies, mules and such that people just cast aside. I no longer like horse racing; I only pray that they cross the finish line safely. Well, I say the same prayer when I watch a Puissance, too. Now, it seems all equines are at risk due to horse meat demand elsewhere in the world. It horrifies me. What BLM is doing to our mustangs tires my spirit. I realize I must help horses somehow. I have started by making little contributions, and through this I have discovered how many horse rescues exist. Horses saved by angels masquerading, mostly, as women. My heart opens up every day to their stories. I am grateful for this blog. I learn something new. Once again, I gain knowledge to love and hopefully to help the horses. Thank you and keep writing.
Great Story! Thank you for sharing!
I don’t believe in ghosts, but I want to go to that barn at night!
I Love the story.
Like you, I am not a fan of the industry per say, but Love some of the trainers (of today and of old) and the great horse stories. You see growing up in the 50’s we were not in a “horsey” area unless you have money. So the closest horse activity I could get was watching and reading about the TB’s in that industry. I am happy to have grown up with Secretariat and Tim Tam, Silky Sullivan, Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and so many other great horses. And of course some the the great we have now, like Cigar, and Zenyatta.
but as I said, I am not a fan of the industry. Unless you have a great the treatment is less then desired (for me)
Thanks for the story..I really enjoy your stories.
A fascinating and fitting story for a full moon!