Many happy returns! Santa Anita ‘paddock captain’ celebrates 100th birthday with race named in his honour

Horse Racing John Shear
Happy 100th birthday: Santa Anita ‘paddock captain’ John Shear. Photo: Santa Anita

By Santa Anita media

USA: Although his preferred venue is off the agenda for the time being, Santa Anita’s beloved ‘paddock captain’ John Shear will nonetheless celebrate his 100th birthday with family this Sunday [Jan 17].

Furloughed since the onset of the pandemic in March, Shear, who has been employed by the track since 1961, would dearly love to return to his beloved Santa Anita.

Santa Anita will name a race in honour of Shear’s 100th birthday on Sunday, and although they’ll be unable to attend, Shear and his wife Diane and son Michael will spend the day at John and Diane’s Sierra Madre home watching the races and wading through dozens of birthday greetings from jockeys, trainers and track employees via a virtual birthday card presented by Santa Anita.

“I enjoy watching on television, but nothing compares to being at Santa Anita,” said Shear.  “We just hope this pandemic will end soon and we can get back to normal.

“My wife and I are trying to stay busy with exercise classes and we spend as much time outdoors as we can. We’re being careful, staying out of stores and ordering things to go, but I miss working and being around the horses so much.”

A native of England who was raised from age four to 14 in an orphanage, at 4ft 11ins Shear originally aspired to be a jockey. Following World War II, he emigrated to Vancouver, after which he went to Santa Anita as an exercise boy.

“I was exercising horses for a guy in Vancouver and he asked me if I’d like to go with him to Santa Anita that fall,” said Shear when interviewed a year ago.  “I said ‘Sure’ – and as soon as I stepped off that van in the stable area here, I said ‘Lord, this is where I want to be.’  The place was so incredibly beautiful and I’ve never gotten tired of it.”

And the ‘Great Race Place’ will never tire of John Shear, a man who gained national attention nine years ago when at the age of 91, he heroically threw himself between an on-rushing loose horse and a five-year-old girl who was standing with her father outside of Santa Anita’s Seabiscuit walking ring.

On the cusp of his 100th birthday, Shear no doubt speaks for thousands of racegoers when he says: “I just hope I can get back to the track soon.”

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