Santa Anita Centennial Man

It was just about a year ago the Daily Racing Blog told the story of John Shear, but given his age and the pandemic, we thought it might be nice to revisit him as he closes in on a milestone birthday.

Although his preferred venue is off limits for the time being, the beloved Paddock Captain at Santa Anita will nonetheless celebrate his 100th birthday with family this Sunday, January 17th. 

Furloughed since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Shear, who has been employed by the track since 1961, would love to return to his cherished Santa Anita.

The track will name a race in honor of Shear’s 100th birthday on Sunday.

Even though they won’t be able to attend, Shear and his wife Diane and son Michael, will spend his 100th birthday 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.

The native of England was raised from age four to 14 in an orphanage. Shear, who stands four feet, 11 inches tall, originally aspired to be a jockey and following World War II, emigrated to Vancouver, B.C. from where he came to Santa Anita as an exercise boy in 1954.

“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 5-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 race goers when he says, “I just hope I can get back to the track soon.”

We at DRB wish Mr. John Shear a very Happy Birthday, and hope that all his birthday wishes come true. Slainte John.

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