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    • To say there’s a touch of the picaresque about John Shear’s life story would be like saying Pope Benedict flirts with Catholicism. During an over-stuffed 99 years and counting, Santa Anita’s beloved paddock captain has had front row seats to historical game changers on both sides of the pond. He’s rubbed shoulders with royalty and assassins, film stars and gangsters. Fate has intervened more than once on his behalf in ways that’ll make the hairs on the back of your neck stand taller than a redwood. “You’ll have to forgive me–my memory’s not quite what it was,” apologized Shear one recent afternoon from his apartment in the leafy canopy of Sierra Madre, Santa Anita racetrack nestled somewhere in the distance. With that confession dispensed with, Shear then proceeded to flex a razor-sharp recall–one that would shame an upstart a quarter his age–over Dickensian beginnings in London that would make Oliver Twist blush with privilege. Shear was four when his mother passed away through severe hemorrhaging giving birth to her eighth child. She was 39. “It’s not like today,” said Shear. “You died from something like that back then.” His father married soon after, but like a stepmother from a Grimms’ fairy tale, the new Mrs. Shear slammed the door to the youngest of the brood, meaning Shear and his brother were sent to an orphanage. Fourteen when he came out, Shear still found the family door barred. And so, essentially homeless, a chance meeting on the London streets found him a home with a friend of his mother’s–a base from which to make a living, first at the King’s Cross railway station, a 15-mile daily round-trip on foot. On the way home one day, a well-heeled gentlemen stopped Shear, enquired about the threadbare shoes falling off his feet. “The very next day he was waiting there for me with a brand-new pair of shoes,” said Shear. Equipped with his fancy new footwear, Shear took a job as a page at Westminster ice rink, where two men approached the boy, asked whether he’d had experience with horses. He hadn’t, of course, but the young Shear ended up at a polo club anyway, where he performed odd jobs and learned to ride. And from there, he made his way to the Epsom stable of trainer Peter Thrale. “He was a good guy,” said Shear, about Thrale, who was carved from the old-school mold of trainer, a trader at heart. “Every horse in the yard was for sale.” He trained greyhounds, too, and liked nothing more than a gamble. “Greatest man you could ever work for.” Before long, World War II erupted across Europe. “I was coming back with a horse one day and there were two men standing at the gates,” said Shear. The men called the boy over, asked him his age. Eighteen, Shear replied. The men ordered him to take a medical, for eligibility into the armed services. “‘Then the government will call you,’ they said.” The government did call. Shear was funneled first into factory work, repairing damaged airplanes–which is where the first of a series of inexplicable events occurred, marking the favorable curvature of his life. One day, an airplane with a broken propeller was wheeled into the hanger. Shear dragged over a stool to reach up and start fixing it. “This boy, he said to me, ‘John, don’t worry. I’ll do it.'” The young man mounted the stool, which stood on a floor as slick as an ice sheet. “The stool shot away from him,” said Shear. “He was suspended in the air, fell flat on the ground, smashed his head. Dead. The nicest guy, he was. I can still see it happen right before me.” Back and forth from home every day, Shear rode pillion on the back of a friend’s motorbike. At the end of one long workday near Christmas, Shear loitered chatting with his colleagues. His friend, however, was in a hurry to leave, took another worker back instead. “I don’t know what happened, but he hit a curb,” said Shear. “The pillion rider flew right over his head, landed on the pavement and was killed.” The incident didn’t frighten Shear away from motorbikes. He bought his own and was coasting along a quiet country road when the car in front suddenly screeched to a halt–Shear flew through the rear plastic window. “I went right through it and landed on the couch,” he said. “I wasn’t even hurt.” The motorbike was mangled, however. “Twisted like a figure eight,” he said. When Shear was deployed, he set sail for Belgium. On his way through the small war-torn country toward France, Shear was slammed in the shoulder with artillery fire. “I had to go back on the hospital ship,” he said. “Had to go into army blues–wasn’t fit enough to go back into service.” Shear’s post army life–he was discharged in 1946–started inauspiciously. He went to Newmarket, solicited a well-respected trainer there, was taken on as part of a team of aspiring apprentices. They were tasked the job of riding the yearlings, who the trainer demanded ridden in perfect squadron formation, a tight line, irons clanking. The yearling given Shear was a little rabbit, intimidated by the others, who scooted forward or sucked back as his poor rider struggled in vain to maintain the rigid line. Eventually, the yearling dropped his head, catapulted Shear toward Mars, took off bucking around Newmarket heath, delighted. “The trainer came up to me on his horse–he had a crop with him. He said, ‘alright boy?’ I said, ‘yessir.’ I was sitting on the ground and he whacked me around the ear with the crop,” said Shear. The trainer ordered him to catch the horse, take it back to the stable. “I got on, took the horse back to the stable and said, ‘goodbye.’ I didn’t even wait to collect my money. I just left.” Shear returned to Thrale’s stable in Epsom, setting the stage for a rare brush with a couple of nosey royals. It happened after the races at Windsor Racecourse, where Shear and co. were working a horse called Three Cheers, readying a plunge in the 1951 Cesarewitch Handicap, run over a zesty 2 1/4 miles. Shear was observing the work on horseback when princesses Elizabeth and Margaret rode up, wondering what on earth was going on in their backyard (Windsor Castle’s stately walls rearing up behind them). No doubt chastened by thoughts of London Tower, Shear spilled the beans. The princesses stayed and watched the work–Liz even commented on Three Cheers’ good form. The horse later landed the gamble in the Cesarewitch at odds of 17-2. The future queen of England, Shear believes, had a flutter on Three Cheers. The next time he saw her, at Folkestone Racecourse, she spotted him among the crowd and slipped him a knowing smile. “She recognized me,” he said. “I never saw her again after that.” But life in general in post-war England was stultifying. “England after the war, there was nothing going on–the only thing that was happening was in movie theaters. Nothing else,” Shear said. He made this observation to a woman visiting from British Columbia, Canada–a family member of the people whose house he shared, in Epsom. “She said, ‘well, if you like, John, you can come over and stay at my place. I’ve three grown sons and plenty of room.'” Shear didn’t immediately take up the offer–tried France, where he was denied a visa on account of there being too few jobs for the French. And so, in 1954, he set sail for Montreal. “From Montreal I took the night train to British Columbia.” Once there, Shear found a job with a trainer who took a small string on a five-day road trip to Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico, in search of a winter tan. Shear tagged along. They arrived at a barn shared with a trainer whose client list included Betty Grable–she of Lloyd’s-insured legs fame–and her husband, band leader Harry James. “Betty Grable used to come back to the barn every Saturday, some Sundays too, look at her horses.” Shear’s boss, however, became gravely ill, left Shear in charge while he returned to Canada to recuperate. The problem was, “the jockeys down in Tijuana were nothing but crooks,” said Shear, who remained on the outside of a clique that decided who won what when. Shear started a hot favorite, for example. “This horse should have won.” Instead, he was beaten a head. “What they did was push my horse out of the way. I tried to claim foul, but the [stewards] didn’t want to listen.” Shear was sick to his eyeballs of Tijuana. In a deal prearranged by his boss, he traveled with the string up to San Francisco, placed them in the hands of another trainer. Then, when Shear had had enough of the Golden City, he traveled south to Santa Anita, took a job as an exercise rider. In 1962, he started working for Santa Anita itself, been part of the track’s furniture ever since. At this point, Shear’s wife, Diane, arrived home, just in time for the next topical chapter of our pilgrim’s progress–the part where his story overlaps with one of the century’s most notorious political murders. “I’ve never told anyone about this before–not publicly,” said Diane, conspiratorially, as she settled in her seat, a portrait of Zenyatta hanging over her, like a good luck charm. But first, let’s set the scene. Shear was working in 1965 for trainer Gordon Bowsher when they took on a wet-behind-the-ears hotwalker by the name of Sirhan Sirhan. “He was a good worker,” said Shear. “We used to call him Sol.” The waifish Sirhan had aspirations of riding–he eventually graduated to a ranch in Corona, inland Los Angeles, to learn. “The next time I saw him, he was walking on crutches,” said Shear. “I said, ‘that didn’t take long, Sol.’ He said, ‘don’t worry, as soon as I get better, I’ll be back on a horse.'” The next time Shear saw Sirhan was a few years later at Hollywood Park, dressed in a suit and fineries. “He looked like a gentleman.” As Diane remembers it, Sirhan was flanked by a couple of characters she knew to be involved in the criminal underworld. “I said to John, ‘look who he’s with,'” she said. A few days later, Sirhan Sirhan shot senator Bobby Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel in LA. Why Diane thinks the two shady characters circling Sirhan that day at Hollywood Park is important is because of a Teamsters labor union meeting her husband had attended a week prior in Downtown LA–a meeting similarly graced by the organization’s leader, Jimmy Hoffa, said Shear. It was the first and only time Shear had ever seen Hoffa in LA. And Kennedy, of course, was instrumental in putting Hoffa away. “It may not mean anything,” said Diane. “But it’s certainly strange.” Shear made his own headlines in 2011 when he threw himself beneath a loose horse at Santa Anita to shield a 5-year-old girl. A nonagenarian at the time, Shear spent a month in hospital with multiple smashed bones. Since then, Santa Anita has taken to commemorating Shear’s birthday–this past Friday, it was honored with a cake and a race named in his honor. According to Domenico Caringella, who clocks in at a sprightly 74 years of age and works alongside Shear at Santa Anita, the track’s paddock captain was recently asked when he’s going to retire. A hundred, Shear replied, adding that he’ll still think about it. Said Caringella, “That’s John for you.” The post John Shear: Ringside Seat to Nearly a Century of Memories appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions. View the full article
    • Notwithstanding the above - which I don't disagree with entirely - the industry is funded by public money...so public perception does matter.
    • Five-year-old gelding Keskonrisk (Fr) (No Risk At All {Fr}) (lot 236) brought a sale-topping price of £370,000 from Henrietta Knight during the second and final session of the Goffs UK January Sale. Wednesday’s session played host to point-to-pointers and form horses, and the Camas Park Stud-consigned half-brother to the Grade 2 winner Grand Sancy (Fr) (Diamond Boy {Fr}) won a debut bumper at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day. A handful of general horses-in-training also went through the ring, with Royal Ascot winner The Grand Visir (GB) (Frankel {GB}) (lot 288) taking top honours at £40,000. The five-time winner from Ian Williams’s Dominion Racing Stables caught the eyes of Richard Ryan who partnered with Williams on the ticket. The duo also bought lot 286, the listed-placed Walhaan (Ire) (Dark Angel {Ire}) from Shadwell for £35,000. From 90 offered, 67 sold (74%) for an aggregate of £1,441,100. The average rose steeply by 57% to £21,509 and the median by 100% to £10,000. Cumulatively, the clearance rate was 70% for 176 sold from 250 offered. The gross was £2,693,100 with an average of £15,302 (+23%) and a median of £9,000 (+64%). Goffs UK Managing Director Tim Kent commented, “As with yesterday’s NH foals, feedback on today’s session was very positive when the catalogue was released and to see Keskonrisk set a new record price of £370,000 is a great result. “Over the two-days we have welcomed a diverse buying bench and have exceeded last year’s turnover with 35 less horses so we have made a positive start to 2020. We would like to extend our thanks to the vendors who have supported the sale and now turn our efforts to the Aintree Sale at the Randox Health Grand National Festival where we look forward to offering more high-end pointers and form horses.” The post Keskonrisk Tops Goffs UK January appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions. View the full article
    • In last year’s inaugural GI Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational S. at Gulfstream Park, Chad Brown brought a single gun to the fight. In fact, it was more of a cannon. Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence’s Bricks and Mortar (Giant’s Causeway) made short work of his rivals that day–winning by 2 ½ lengths–and proceeded to carve out a championship-worthy season consisting of five additional graded wins, including the GI Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita. Looking at this season’s Pegasus World Cup Turf, Brown-who is favored to add his fourth training title at Thursday’s Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream–may not have a horse of the caliber of the likely Horse of the Year, however, he is well represented by a trio of contenders-Without Parole (GB) (Frankel {GB}), Instilled Regard (Arch) and Scared Life (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}). OXO Equine LLC’s Instilled Regard, who kicked off his career with Jerry Hollendorfer, rounded out his juvenile campaign with a second-place effort–after getting promoted via DQ–in the GI Los Alamitos Derby. On the Triple Crown trail at three, he won the GIII Lecomte S. before finishing fourth in the GII Risen Star S., GI Santa Anita Derby and GI Kentucky Derby. Turned over to Brown thereafter, the dark bay failed to make an impact when a well-beaten ninth in the GI Pennsylvania Derby before trying turf for the first time in the nine-furlong GI Hollywood Derby at Del Mar where he finished a respectable third behind stablemate Raging Bull (Fr) (Dark Angel {Ire}). “His pedigree suggested he could run on both surfaces,” explained Brown regarding the decision to try the colt on the turf. “I thought his dirt races were very good, but the more that we worked with the horse and just watched him move, he clearly showed that he’d be able to at least handle the turf. So, I think he’s a dual surface horse.” A close-up second in a Keeneland allowance on the turf last April, he was given one more chance on the dirt and he didn’t show much, finishing sixth in Churchill’s GII Alysheba S. Third when returned to the grass for an Aqueduct optional claimer in November, he rounded out the year with a victory in the nine-furlong GII Ft. Lauderdale S. over the Gulfstream lawn Dec. 14. Reflecting on the win, Brown explained: “I think he established good position in the race, which was good. He didn’t fall too far behind, which was also good. I think he settled real nicely and really cooperated with [Irad Ortiz Jr.], and I think he got a great trip, too. We know we have a talented horse there. He has good turn of foot. He’s a really quality class horse, but you need to get a good trip, too, and Irad was able to give him a really good ride. So it all worked out.” Ortiz Jr., who was aboard for Instilled Regard’s two most recent starts, will be back in the saddle for Saturday’s PWCT. “He needs some sort of pocketed, ground-saving trip and needs to find some room at some point,” added Brown. “That will be a much tougher race than the last race he was in, so some sort of wide trip with no cover won’t work for him.” Looking beyond the Pegasus Turf with the graded winner on both turf and dirt, Brown expects to keep the 5-year-old on the grass for the foreseeable future. “He’s won some nice races on both, but at this stage of his career, I think that turf’s going to suit him better moving forward, especially from a soundness standpoint,” he offered. “It seems to be a little easier on him. He seems to exit his races and his works on the turf a little better.” Another horse who joined Brown’s team after the fact, John and Tanya Gunther’s Without Parole reeled off four consecutive victories in England at three, headed by the G1 St. James’s Palace S. at Royal Ascot. Unable to recapture that form in five subsequent Group 1 starts through May of 2019, he joined Brown’s Saratoga string last summer, but didn’t make his stateside debut until the GI TVG Breeders’ Cup Mile, where he finished third-beaten just under three lengths-by stablemate Uni (GB) (More Than Ready). “Immediately he showed us that he’s a quality horse,” recalled Brown. “He’s a good mover and integrated very well into our program. He started training really well, so we ended up taking a shot at the Breeders’ Cup off a layoff, and he ran super. It’s not like me to do something like that, but we didn’t really have any other options where to run him. He was ready around that time, and we gave it a shot.” He added, “The race was very impressive. He ran really huge to be third. Considering how much he was up against, his first time running in the States and off that long of a layoff, a new program, new rider–new everything. So, he really ran well and Irad [Ortiz Jr.], again, gave him a good trip.” According to Brown, Frankie Dettori, who has accompanied the English-bred in all nine overseas starts, including his St. James’s victory, is slated to ride in the Pegasus Turf. “I hope he breaks well and get some sort of decent position in the field,” said Brown. “I’d like to see him saving ground, following the right horses. I think if he gets the same [type of trip as the Mile] turning for home, I think we’re going to see a pretty good turn of foot. He’s trained exceptionally well for this race.” Rounding out the Brown triumvirate, Sacred Life won all three of his starts at two, including the G3 Prix Thomas Byron at Saint-Cloud. He later won or placed in four of five starts at three–including two at the Group 3 level–before rounding out his European campaign with a fourth in the G3 Exbury at Saint-Cloud in March. Secured by a partnership of Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, Wonder Stables and Bethlehem Stables and transferred to Brown, he was runner-up in both the Lure S. and GII Bernard Baruch S. at Saratoga last summer before accounting for his first stateside win in an 8 1/2-furlong Keeneland allowance in October. In his most recent start, he came up a half-length short in Del Mar’s GII Seabiscuit H. Nov. 30. “He’s very consistent in his races and he seems to be improving,” said Brown. “He’s actually moving better now than he was for most of last year. I’d say he is an average mover when he trains on the dirt, but his turf works are really solid. He’s a little bit of a tricky horse to ride. He can be a little headstrong and he’s got a little bit of a light mouth on him, but he’s a very hardy horse and tries hard. He can be a tough horse [his personality] and I like that about him. I’ve been impressed with him, particularly the last three months.” In regards to the 5-year-old’s latest victory Brown added, “When we were training him for the Seabiscuit and I had never seen this horse breeze that well. He’s always a good workhorse, but his last couple works for that race were particularly good. They really caught my attention. He came out of the race good. He was just an unlucky loser in that race. I thought he looked like he was much the best. He just had a really difficult trip and just didn’t have enough time to get there, although he tried. He came home very, very fast in the last quarter.” And according to Brown he has been pleased with the bay since his arrival at Brown’s Palm Meadows training base in Florida. “He’s come down to South Florida and trained just as well, if not even better than before, so he really deserves a shot in the race,” he said. Brown confirmed that Sacred Life will be partnered by Jose Ortiz for the first time in the Pegasus Turf. “He doesn’t have a lot of early speed and he’s going to need some pace in front of him,” he said. “He’s going to have to find a way to follow the right horses and get himself in some sort of striking position when they turn for home and not find himself too far back. I think that’s the key to this horse.” The post Brown’s Triple Turf Threat appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions. View the full article
    • LONDON, UK—Godolphin’s homebred Pinatubo (Ire) (Shamardal) was officially named Europe’s champion juvenile of 2019 on Wednesday when given the highest rating for a 2-year-old in 25 years. In fact, it was a clean sweep for Godolphin and Kildangan Stud-based sire Shamardal, who were also responsible for the joint runners-up in the category, Victor Ludorum (Ire) and Earthlight (Ire). The magic number for Pintaubo—also awarded to Enable (GB), Crystal Ocean (GB) and Waldgeist (GB) when topping the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings—was 128. One has to look back as far as 1994 and 1991 to find a higher rating, when Celtic Swing and Arazi were respectively given marks of 130. Pinatubo, trained by Charlie Appleby, started his unbeaten six-race stretch in a low-key manner at Wolverhampton on May 10 and it culminated with victory in the G1 Darley Dewhurst S. Graeme Smith, lead 2-year-old handicapper for the British Horseracing Authority, said, “Pinatubo looked a potentially outstanding 2-year-old when thrashing a competitive field in the Vintage Stakes and his next performance in the National Stakes was breathtaking—the kind you rarely see in top company—as he powered nine lengths clear of Armory and Arizona in a top-class time. This was one of the great 2-year-old performances, and the best by any 2-year-old in the last 25 years.” Of the juvenile fillies of 2019, the Jessica Harrington-trained Millisle (Ire) (Starspangledbanner {Aus}) was given the highest rating of 115. She won three of her five starts last season for her owner-breeder Stonethorn Farms Ltd, including the G1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park S. “Millisle’s position at the top of the 2-year-old filly rankings is a fitting finale to a juvenile season that can only be described as sensational for handler Jessica Harrington, who trained an amazing 21 individual 2-year-old fillies to success in 2019,” said Mark Bird, handicapper for the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board. “Millisle’s victory at Newmarket, when she defeated three Group 2 and two Group 3 winners, was the most substantive piece of form produced by any 2-year-old filly in Europe in 2019. She deservedly emerges as champion in the division following in the footsteps of a long list of fillies, including Marling, Queen’s Logic, Tiggy Wiggy and Clemmie, who were all crowned Champion 2-year-old filly after winning this race.” Forty juveniles in Europe received a rating of 110 or higher, the joint-lowest total in recent years. The post Pinatubo Awarded Top Rating In 25 Years appeared first on TDN | Thoroughbred Daily News | Horse Racing News, Results and Video | Thoroughbred Breeding and Auctions. View the full article
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