At age 100, Santa Anita’s beloved paddock caption John Shear retires

July 29, 2021

Track to honor more than 60 years of dedicated service on 2021 Fall Meet Opener, Friday, Oct. 1

ARCADIA, Calif.—The news came in a twitter post this past Monday.  John Shear, Santa Anita’s 100-year-old Paddock Captain, made it official as he announced his retirement from The Great Race Place following more than 60 years of great memories and dedicated service.

“It’s official, I have retired from work,” Shear wrote.  “For 60 years, I worked all the Southern California racetracks, met many incredible people and saw the best horses.  It has been a career I look back (upon) with great pride and wonderful memories.  I’m in great health and will visit Santa Anita as a fan.”

Accordingly, Santa Anita will honor the man who gained national attention nine years ago when he heroically threw himself between an on-rushing loose horse and a 5-year-old girl who was standing beside her father just outside the track’s Seabiscuit Walking Ring with a special Paddock dedication and ceremony on opening day of the 2021 Autumn Meet on Friday, Oct. 1.

A commemorative plaque honoring Shear’s decades-long commitment to customer service and safety will be unveiled in Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area and Shear will be feted in a Winner’s Circle ceremony as well. 

Sidelined due to COVID-related restrictions at the track earlier in the year, Shear was reluctant to call it a career, but decided over the weekend to contact his union local and at last enjoy the benefits of retirement.

“John really wanted to go back to work this year, but with COVID basically shutting things down, it just wasn’t possible,” said his wife Diane by phone from their home in nearby Sierra Madre on Tuesday.  “He misses the horses and the people so much.  The fans, the jockeys, the trainers, everybody, it’s just been his life forever.  We’re thrilled to learn that Santa Anita is going to honor him in this way and we can’t wait to come out on Oct. 1.  It should be a great day.”

Orphaned as a young boy in his native England, Shear, at four feet, 11 inches, originally aspired to be a jockey and following service in World War II, he emigrated to Vancouver, B.C., from where he came to Santa Anita for the first time 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 prior to his 100th birthday this past January.  “I said, ‘Sure,’ and as soon as I stepped off that van in the Stable Area here, is said ‘Lord, this is where I want to be.’  The place was so incredibly beautiful and I’ve never gotten tired of it.”

A big believer in daily exercise, Shear, who remains a svelte 104 pounds, had this simple advice for a long life prior to his 99th birthday:

“Find something you love, stay positive and exercise!”

Aye aye Captain and we’ll see you on Oct. 1!

Santa Anita Press Release

Photo: John Shear, (Benoit)

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