Santa Anita's Legendary Paddock Captain Retires at 100

Santa Anita's Legendary Paddock Captain Retires at 100

Shear planned to work at least until his 100th birthday in January 2021. Things didn’t work out that way.

“Circumstances,” he said.

They included the pandemic, which shut down Santa Anita and everything else in March 2020. When the track reopened with no fans and just a handful of employees, Shear stayed home for safety’s sake.

In January, instead of celebrating his birthday at the racetrack as he had planned, the racetrack came to Shear.

As he stood and waved, more than a hundred cars rolled past in a drive-by birthday party. Inside were stable hands, thoroughbred owners, beer sellers, racing executives, irrepressible gamblers and Hall of Fame jockeys and trainers.

In April, Shear got vaccinated and Santa Anita welcomed back fans. He thought about going back, but at 100, he had grown used to the rhythms of life at home. Besides, he has respiratory problems and didn’t think he could wear a mask all day. He believed members of his crew needed the work more than he did.

One April afternoon, Shear’s son Mike drove from his home in San Diego to take his father to the track. John Shear caught up with his friends. Bet on a few horses.

“Was great to see so many familiar faces,” he wrote on Facebook. “I’ll be back for sure!”

But the spring meet ended in June and the next one wouldn’t begin until September, and to an man who had already been home for more than a year, the fall seemed impossibly far away. So Shear called his union rep and put in his notice.

He told the public in a tweet: “It’s Official. I have retired from work.”

The question is: Now what?

For a lot of people, work is a prelude to a hoped-for future — maybe a fly rod and a cabin by the river. But for Shear, the paddock was the cabin by the river. So now he is trying to figure out how to fill minutes, hours, days. He concedes he is stumbling from the gate.

Roofers and handymen are touching up his home. He is wearing out his beloved Chihuahua, Gracie, with extended playtimes. Shear and his wife, Diane, 78, are still getting used to the do-si-do of spending more time together. They take walks. They go out to dinner. The next day, they do it again.

Shear learned a few things in 60 years in the paddock: The horses come first. Keep your eyes open. Be nice to the patrons. Now he is learning a new lesson, namely that free time and freedom aren’t always the same thing.

It’s OK. Nothing is easy in this life. Shear considers himself lucky.

“Centenarian,” his Twitter bio says. “Enjoying retired life.”

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