The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters recently announced that Joe Harper, who has led the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club over the past 40 years and enabled Del Mar to become one of North America’s most successful racetracks, has been selected to receive the Eclipse Award of Merit in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement in thoroughbred racing.
Harper, chief executive officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, will receive the Award of Merit at the 48th annual Eclipse Awards Dinner and Ceremony honoring the 2018 champions of Thoroughbred racing on Thursday, Jan. 24, at Gulfstream Park Racing & Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
Since coming on board in an executive capacity at Del Mar in 1978, Harper has guided the seaside track—founded in 1937 and bordering the Pacific Ocean just north of San Diego—through a period of sustained growth and success to become one of the leading facilities in North America.
“American Racing has the tradition of Saratoga, the history of the Triple Crown, the majesty of Santa Anita, and the unbridled joy of summer at Del Mar,” said Hall of Fame trainer, two-time Triple Crown winner and four-time Eclipse Award Outstanding Trainer winner Bob Baffert. “Joe Harper is the maestro of that summer celebration, the exuberant leader who makes sure every year that Del Mar maintains its special place in racing’s heart. Joe Harper is Del Mar, Del Mar is Joe Harper, and no one deserves the Eclipse Award of Merit more than Joe.”
Under Harper’s stewardship, Del Mar has grown to the point that it now offers some of the west’s best racing, as well as its highest overall average daily purse structure, which in turn has led to robust handle figures. In recent years the track also has taken a prominent position in health and safety measures for its horses and riders that have proven highly effective and been emulated by others in the industry.
Some of the other signature accomplishments under Harper at the helm of the DMTC include:
The creation of the $1 million Pacific Classic in 1990, which became the track’s signature race and quickly established itself as one of America’s most important races during the second half of the sport’s calendar;
Reconstruction and opening of a new $80 million grandstand during 1991-1993 to further enhance the comfort and convenience of the facility;
Creation of the “Cool as Ever” marketing campaign, which further expanded the track’s popularity and prominence beyond horse racing;
Addition of a fall meeting following the closing of Hollywood Park, a move that helped preserve year-round racing in Southern California; and
Hosting a record-setting 2017 Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
“I’m certainly honored to be selected for an award that has gone previously to so many exceptional people in our wonderful world of horse racing,” said the 75-year-old Harper. “But I’d like everyone to know that I am going to accept it on behalf of the incredible employees of Del Mar who have – for over all the years – been the backbone of our success. My first job at Del Mar was as a cinema photographer during the 1967 summer meet. I saw and could tell right away that this was a family working together for a good cause that they all believed in. I think we’ve been successful in keeping it that way for the half century or so I’ve been involved with it.”
In addition to his work for Del Mar over the years, Harper also is involved in a wide range of industry and community activities. He is a member of The Jockey Club, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and the Advisory Board for the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program. He is the former president of both the Thoroughbred Racing Associations of North America and the Federation of California Racing Associations. He also serves as chairman of the Advisory Board of the California Center for Equine Health at U.C. Davis, and as chairman of the Winners Foundation, a drug and alcohol counseling center for the California racing industry. Additionally, he serves on the board of the San Dieguito Boys & Girls Clubs. Harper takes personal pride in serving as a trustee of the Cecil B. DeMille Foundation. Through that Foundation he has been very active in supporting education and film preservation at USC., UCLAand Chapman University. The DeMille Foundation was the major contributor toward the construction of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Research Center in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Harper and his wife of 55 years, Barbara, live in Del Mar. They have four daughters and nine grandchildren.
Eclipse Awards tickets are available for $425 each or $4,000 for a table of 10. Blocks of rooms have been reserved for Eclipse Awards guests at the JW Marriott (formerly the Turnberry Isle Resort) in Aventura, Fla. Additional details can be found on the NTRA website at NTRA.com/eclipse-awards.
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