While researching the female family of Travel Column, I came across a stallion whose history intersected my own. Specifically, Travel Column’s fourth dam, the Italian highweight Carnauba, is one of the best racing daughters of the Australian-bred racehorse and important stallion Noholme, a son of Star Kingdom and full brother to the great Australian champion Todman.
What many people don’t realize is that Noholme was regarded as a champion there also. In 1959, Noholme won the Cox Plate and the Epsom Handicap against older horses and was considered an unofficial Horse of the Year in 1959. Possessing speed, class, and a good pedigree, one would expect the Aussie breeders to have embraced Noholme enthusiastically.
That was not the case, however, because he was 15.2, too small to make a stallion, it was believed, although his equally unappreciated full brother Todman proved them wrong too. The young Noholme came on the market in 1960 for the remarkably reasonable price of 10,000 guineas. Gene Goff bought Noholme and 40 other horses as a group, and as things developed, there was a difference of opinion about how much Noholme’s price contributed to the overall figure.
Goff bought Noholme with a view to racing him, but the Australians definitely got the better of that part of that deal. Noholme left his best racing Down Under, and his most important efforts came when he placed second in the Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington, Bougainvillea Turf Handicap at Hialeah, and the Chicago Handicap at Hawthorne.
There is no doubt, however, that he was worth more than the lot from the viewpoint of bloodstock history. Retired to Goff’s Verna Lea Farm outside Fayetteville, Ark., Noholme became a bloodstock legend and a gold mine.
With a first crop from 14 mares of 13 foals and 11 winners, Noholme got off to a quick start, and Goff, an oilman from Arkansas, had backed up his faith in the horse with the purchase of enough mares to enlarge Noholme’s second book and have a second crop of 40 foals.
From these came 24 juvenile winners, which was a record number at the time, and it made Noholme the leading sire of 2-year-olds by number of winners in all of North America. The spotlight was on the smallish horse with the light chestnut coat.
And Noholme did not disappoint. With a mass of winners from his first two crops, Noholme was syndicated for $1 million in 1967 and moved to Bob Marks’s Robin’s Nest Farm outside Ocala, Fla.
Also from that second crop came handicap champion Nodouble and Hometown News, who became the champion 3-year-old filly in Canada in 1968. They fulfilled the test of quality that elevated Noholme from a fancy little sire of winners to the sire of major league racehorses.
Nodouble won the 1968 Arkansas Derby and was third in the Preakness. The angular and tough chestnut came into his own later and won the Metropolitan Handicap, Santa Anita Handicap, Hawthorne Gold Cup, Brooklyn Handicap, and Californian Stakes, with seconds in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Hollywood Gold Cup, Strub, and Woodward.
With the “Arkansas Traveler” churning out headline results at the racetrack, Noholme was doing his part at Robin’s Nest.
From the stallion’s 1970 crop came one of his best racers, champion sprinter Shecky Greene, who set the pace in the 1973 Kentucky Derby and proved a top-class sprinter. Shecky Greene was more than that, winning also the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream, and he sired a top European juvenile and topweight miler in Green Forest, who won the Grand Criterium at 2, the Prix de Moulin at 3, and became a good sire.
Shecky Greene was the champion sprinter of 1973, and his sire moved to Dan Lasater’s Lasater Farm in 1974. Noholme spent the rest of his life there.
The farm’s general manager was the late John Fernung, and his brother Brent was getting involved in the horse business when Noholme came to the farm.
Brent Fernung recalled: “I rubbed Noholme for a while, because I started out as a groom at the farm, getting to know the business from the ground up. This was a time when the farm had Nodouble, Cutlass, Great Above. But Noholme was an old horse by the time I got there. He had a real big dip in his back, his pasterns were slack, feet were pretty bad.
“But Noholme was a breeding machine even at that age. You’d bring him into the breeding shed, he’d drop down, cover in one jump, and out of there. He was such a cool old horse.”
Even as age lowered his back and pasterns, it hadn’t dented the stallion’s fertility.
Fernung recalled, “When Lasater had B.W. Pickett and J.L. Voss come to the farm to check stallion fertility, they checked a dismount sample from Noholme, and after they had put it under the microscope, Dr. Voss stepped out of the clean room and came over to look at him.
“Dr. Pickett was a PhD, and the veterinarian was Dr. Voss. They wrote the book on stallion fertility and led the research on stallion reproduction at Colorado State University. They had come all the way from Colorado to do some work for Lasater, mostly wellness care, because, back then, 75 mares was a lot of mares for most stallions, and we were regularly breeding Noholme to more than a hundred.
“John said, ‘Anything wrong, doc?’ The vet said, ‘I was just checking to see this was a horse and not a hog. His semen is off the charts.’ The horse’s fertility was so good that Dr. Pickett and the boss estimated you could have bred 60 to 70 mares from a single ejaculate.
“So far as semen quality, I’ve never seen a horse like Noholme,” Fernung said. “It had Pickett and Voss scratching their heads about him but favorably impressed.”
Noholme has lived on in pedigrees through Nodouble, who was leading general sire in 1981, through Shecky Greene and Green Forest, and especially through hundreds of daughters, such as Italian highweight Carnauba, who is the fourth dam of 2021 Fair Ground Oaks winner Travel Column (by Frosted).
On May 17, 1983, Noholme was euthanized at age 27 on Lasater Farm near Ocala due to the infirmities of old age and was buried there.
At the time, I was an intern at Verna Lea Farm outside Fayetteville, where I was finishing up my schooling at the University of Arkansas. Mostly, I led, fed, and picked stalls, but this was work with honest to god Thoroughbreds, and I thought it was more exciting than anything.
So it was a sad day at the farm in Arkansas when they learned that the best stallion ever retired to “The Land of Opportunity” had died.
Although I worked with a number of his sons and daughters at Verna Lea, I knew the old boy only by the legacy of awe and excellence that he had left behind. Working at Verna Lea, however, earned me a reference that brought me to work in Kentucky and eventually edit copy and write at the Thoroughbred Record, where I was able to meet some of the great bloodstock commentators of the time, including Abram S. Hewitt, Tony Morris, Tim Capps, John Sparkman, Bill Munn, and David Dink.
The Record exists only in bound volumes in libraries nowadays, but it was a springboard to learning and writing and a lifetime of work in a sport that I loved. So, memories of Noholme are good.