ARCADIA, Calif. -- John Shear, who began as an exercise rider and later worked in the paddock where he was run over by a horse while saving a child during a 67-year career at Santa Anita, has died. He was 102.
Shear died of natural causes Tuesday at a rehabilitation facility in Arcadia, his family said in a statement to racetrack officials Wednesday.
He retired from the track while in good health at age 100 in 2021.
"John will be deeply missed by countless lifelong friends here at Santa Anita," general manager Nate Newby said. "We were honored to have him as part of the Santa Anita family for more than 60 years of dedicated service, and we'll never forget him."
Shear gained national attention at age 90, when on March 12, 2011, he was credited for saving a 5-year-old girl from potentially serious injury when he shielded her from a loose horse that bolted out of the track's paddock and ran for its barn in the stable area.
Shear was run over and had multiple fractures, including a broken pelvis, as well as life-threatening internal bleeding. The child, Roxy Key, was unhurt.
"He didn't save a daughter, he saved a family," Michael Key, the child's father, said at the time.
Born Jan. 17, 1921, in England, Shear was raised in an orphanage from age 4 to 14. At 4-foot-11, Shear wanted to be a jockey. After serving in an anti-aircraft unit during World War II, he immigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where he exercised horses. His employer asked if he wanted to go to Santa Anita, and Shear agreed.
"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," he said a few years ago.
Shear was an assistant trainer when he first began working in Santa Anita's parking lot in 1961.
In 2021, the track renamed a stakes race the John Shear Mile in his honor. That same year, a bronze plaque was unveiled in the paddock honoring his six decades of service.
He remained fit by watching his diet and exercising, including daily pushups and walks. He enjoyed trips to Las Vegas to play poker.
"Find something you love, stay positive and exercise," Shear recommended upon his retirement.
He is survived by his wife Diane and son Michael.
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