Santa Anita’s John Shear Celebrates His 100th Birthday on January 17th; Has Race Named in His Honor

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Mike Smith and John Shear
Jockey Mike Smith visits Santa Anita’s Paddock Captain, John Shear, for his 100th birthday. Photo Courtesy Mike Shear

We can all hope to reach 100 years of age with just as much gusto for our passions in life than ever. Meet Santa Anita’s legendary John Shear, who has done just that, and who has inspired people along the way.

Although his preferred venue is off the agenda for the time being, Santa Anita’s beloved Paddock Captain John Shear celebrated his 100th birthday with family this past Sunday, January 17. Furloughed since the onset of the COVID-19 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 named a race in honor of Shear’s 100th birthday on Sunday, and although they were unable to attend, Shear and his wife, Diane, and son Michael [who is on staff at Horse Illustrated] spent 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.”

A native of England who was raised from age four to 14 in an orphanage, Shear, at four feet, 11 inches, originally aspired to be a jockey. 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 onrushing 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.”

Happy Birthday from the staff of Horse Illustrated. 

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