Remembering George Luna, Golden Gate Fields jockey, master sailor, Berkeley Rotarian

Luna established the Learning Center at Golden Gate Fields, where he taught English and citizenship classes to many of the track’s Spanish-speaking workers.

George Luna. Credit: Facebook

George Luna, April 20, 1950 – April 2, 2022

George Luna was a man in motion. He was born in Tijuana, Mexico, in 1950, the second of five children. The Luna family immigrated to California when George was 2 years old and settled in southern California. While attending La Puente High School, George was an active member of student government, served as class president and president of Future Farmers of America, and lettered in cross country.

In the early 1970s, George began his career as a horseman, mucking stalls and exercise riding, before becoming a jockey. He rode in the U.S, Canada, and Mexico, eventually settling at Golden Gate Fields. Throughout his long career in racing, he was the exercise rider for two California racing legends, Lost in the Fog (Eclipse Award winner for Outstanding Sprint Horse) and Soviet Problem (1994 California Horse of the Year). However, he was likely proudest of his own filly Burning Brite (aka Dolores), profiled with George in the East Bay Express in 2005. In 1979 he began his trade of saddle-making and leather work under the name Superior Tack. The workmanship and attention to detail he put into each of his saddles transformed leather into a work of art.

George Luna. Credit: Facebook

George was a passionate sailor and was as comfortable offshore as he was on the saddle. He owned two sailboats, the 22-foot Nightmare and the 24-foot Tizna in which he competed primarily solo including numerous Singlehanded Farallones Races. With Tizna he also won the concours d’elegance at the Plastic Classic Regatta. George competed on many types of boats in crewed racing events as well. He sailed 15,000-plus miles offshore delivering boats far and wide.  There were many trips up and down the West Coast from SoCal to Mexico as well as the Panama Canal, Caribbean and the East Coast. George also delivered race boats back from Hawaii to the mainland three times, twice on a 54-foot performance trimaran and a 63-foot carbon monohull. From the helm to the bow to the masthead, George could do it all.

Always interested in helping others, George joined the Berkeley Rotary in 2003, where he threw himself into rigorous volunteer projects in Mexico, Guatemala and New Orleans. He also established the Learning Center at Golden Gate Fields, where he taught English and citizenship classes to many of the track’s Spanish-speaking workers.

George died from heart failure on April 2, just a few weeks shy of his 72nd birthday.

George Luna. Credit: Facebook

George is survived by his mother, Aurora M. Luna, 96 years strong, and his siblings, Aurora de la Torre, Norma Luna and Eduardo (Eddie) Luna.  He is also survived by his nieces and nephews, Elizabeth Wade, Carlos (Chuck) de la Torre, Lydia de la Torre, Anna Luna, Julia Luna McKechnie, Emilio Luna, Madisen Luna, Zoie Long, Cielo Luna and Levon Luna. And his grandnieces and grandnephews, Kenneth de la Torre, Lily Wade, Aurora Hunter, Gabrieille Hunter and Harlen Hunter.

While he may have been taken from us too soon, if anyone lived life to its fullest, it was George Luna. Few can boast having sailed through the Panama Canal or having ridden their own racehorse to a third-place finish. He did both and so much more.

A celebration of George’s life will be held at Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda, Berkeley, at noon on Saturday, April 23. Memorial donations in George’s name for the Children’s Dental Clinic at YMCA Richmond can be made to the Berkeley Rotary (use the donate button and mark “George Luna memorial”). Checks can be mailed to: 2342 Shattuck Ave #101. Berkeley, CA 94704.