Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Please join us once again for the The Third Annual "Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby".  For the third consecutive year, MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® and Old Friends are teaming up for an unparalleled online shopping experience: "Hats Off to the Horses: The Road to the Derby". This unique Derby hat fundraiser features one-of-a-kind couture Derby hats created by MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® to benefit Old Friends.
For the first hat auction in this year's auction series, milliner Sally Faith Steinmann of MAGGIE MAE DESIGNS® has created this stunning one-of-a-kind couture Derby hat as a memorial tribute to honor Noor, the first of three great Thoroughbred racehorse Hall of Famers being laid to rest at the farm’s newly created Hall of Fame Cemetery along with Skip Away and Precisionist.

Noor was a coal-black Thoroughbred racehorse whose name in Arabic means “light.” Foaled in Ireland in 1945 from royal bloodlines by Nasrullah out of Queen of Baghdad, breeder Aga Khan III named the colt after the stunning Kohinoor (Mountain of Light) Diamond which is part of the crown worn by Queen Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother. Yet Noor was a late-bloomer who achieved only modest success on the English turf. That is, until he found the magical team of Charles “Seabiscuit” Howard and trainer, Burley Parke, whose skillful patient hands taught the colt how to tap into his true potential as a classic come-from-behind champion. Brought to America in 1949 to race as a five-year-old under Howard's red and white diamond silks, Noor truly found his stride on American dirt. And once Noor got started, he never looked back.

1950 was quite simply the Year of Noor. In one year alone, his racing achievements included 4 out of 5 stunning victories over 1948 Triple Crown winner, Citation; two victories over a second Triple Crown winner, Assault; wins over 1950 U.S. Horse of the Year Hill Prince and 1949 Kentucky Derby winner Ponder. Unfortunately, owner Charles Howard died in June of 1950 and never had the chance to see just how high Noor's star would climb. In 1950, Noor was awarded U.S. Champion Handicap Male Horse honors. Beyond the track, he sired 13 stakes winners. In 2002, Noor was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, and in 1999 Bloodhorse Magazine placed him at #69 in their list of Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century.

Noor died in 1974 at the age of 29 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Loma Rica Ranch in Grass Valley, CA. However, plans for a business park at that location meant that the resting place of Noor might be covered over forever, a tragedy to so many who had come for many years to visit his grave and pay tribute to this national hero. Among his fans was Charlotte Farmer of Redding, CA. Under her leadership, an extraordinary team was developed that worked tirelessly for nearly four years to get Noor moved to a new location. As a result of their efforts, Noor's remains were exhumed on August 26th, 2011. Farmer and her longtime companion, Willie Houghtby, then began an epic journey across 2,300 miles in a rented pickup truck to bring Noor to his final resting place at the newly created Old Friends Hall of Fame Cemetery in Kentucky. In an emotional ceremony on August 31st, complete with one last Call to the Post, Old Friends founder, Michael Blowen stated, “Today is about Noor and it’s about Charlotte Farmer… Without Charlotte, this day would never have happened.” Charlotte Farmer's dream for Noor had finally come to pass.

Noor's presence in the new national racehorse cemetery at Old Friends means that his story, along with the stories of other great champions, will continue to be told, and retold. And this, after all, is how we keep these great champions' spirits alive forever, their lives never forgotten.

To read more about Charlotte's epic journey and her amazing “team” who helped make this historic move possible, please see Noor, Featured Horse.  Given the magnitude and scope of Noor's racing achievements and legacy, it was important that the hat created to honor him be not only a memorial tribute but also a grand celebration befitting a national horse racing hero.

Noor was a splendid, statuesque individual. He was coal-black, standing at 17 hands high, with royal blood coursing through his veins. To represent his size and majesty, a 25-inch wide brim design was chosen for the foundation of the hat. A rich black dupioni silk was selected to reflect the stallion's coal-black coat. The brim was inspired by Noor's four out of five stunning victories over the 1948 Triple Crown champion, Citation, and its shape captures the smooth, fluid action of this great Thoroughbred athlete rolling forward at full gallop. A ruffled brim edge trim was created to further accentuate the muscled conformation of this athlete using layered black taffeta and rippling, shimmering black tulle.

The red and white racing silks of the Charles S. Howard stable provided the basic color palette for the trimmings of this stunning Derby hat in a truly innovative combination of texture and design.

The centerpiece is an enormous rose curl created in luscious swirling layers of red silk organza lined with a layer of yellow organza. And when the light catches it just right, these silk layers give off a stunning luminous glow almost as if from deep within the heart of the rose. A sparkling coal-black pebble button adds one more bit of twinkle to the luminescence.

This “light of Noor” rose centerpiece is meant to reflect all of this great stallion's racing achievements as well as his front runner status as the standard bearer for the new Old Friends Hall of Fame Cemetery.

A lavish medley of variegated fabric leaves, created in black and red silk organza and layered one upon the other, softly frames the giant red silk rose. The wispy black tulle sprays from the brim edge further catch the light and frame the rose curl centerpiece.

A luscious bouquet of colorful red, white, and black silk and chiffon bows were tucked behind the rose and reflects Noor's racing colors in a unique combination of patterns and textures. A sash of soft black satin lined with polka dot chiffon, reminiscent of the stallion's shiny coal-black coat, surrounds the crown and serves to balance the entire design.

A layer of fancy black tasseled braiding was hand-stitched to the place where the brim edge and layered trim of taffeta and tulle meet, and is reminiscent of the way in which Noor's hair was often braided in some of the old photographs.

A second coal-black pebble button adorns the back seam of the hat and helps to create a balanced design that is stunning from every angle.

Finally, it was important to honor the Howard Stable and the Kohinoor Diamond in such a way that didn't seem cliché but would be in keeping with the stately, proud spirit of this equine champion. In homage to Charles S. Howard, the man who never saw some of the finest moments of his charge's racing career, several small clear sparkling “diamond” buttons were carefully stitched into the hat which only the wearer of the hat will be able to discover.

For his entire life Noor was always the come-from-behind horse. And as is sometimes true of those who are truly gifted, it took time for the right handlers to help Noor realize his potential. Burley Parke came into Noor's life and in classic “horse whisperer” style helped Noor become the champion he was always meant to be.

And his arrival at Old Friends marks a new chapter for Noor, one in which he finally gets to be the front-runner. The son of Noor's trainer, Gary Parke, was present at the recent internment ceremony at Old Friends. He was quoted in the August 31, 2011 Courier Journal by Jennie Rees as saying, “A champion horse coming in here like this, maybe it’s going to give Noor the recognition he deserved all along... And being right here in Kentucky, this is huge. This is an appropriate place, where people love horses. It will be a great thing to have other horses starting to come in here.” Parke truly understands the significance of Noor being the first Hall of Famer to be buried in the new Old Friends Hall of Fame Cemetery.

As Michael Blowen stated in the same article, “This horse probably never got the credit he deserved... because he was always second to Seabiscuit. But today he finished in front of Seabiscuit because he’s the first horse to be interred at what, moving forward, will be a national cemetery for Hall of Fame horses who need a home because of extenuating circumstances.”

The come-from-behind no more horse, this sometimes-forgotten champion who may have lived in the shadow of Seabiscuit is for the very first time on the lead, lighting the way for other champions to follow who, like him, may not have a final resting place. This sacred ground at Old Friends is a national horse racing memorial that will give every visitor the chance to learn the history of some of the real heroes of American horse racing, past and present, beginning with Noor.

”We ask of the thoroughbreds, and they give, they serve us with dignity and satisfy our needs to compete - we owe it to them to provide the retirement they so justly have earned.” - Fred Stone

The “Noor” hat is the first in our “Hats Off to the Horses” Derby hat auction series this season and bidding is now closed.  Look for the next hat in the series coming soon!

Noor Photos courtesy of Charlotte Farmer and Devora Berliner, Noor Facebook webpage - “*Noor: In Memory of a Champion”