Joe Harper talks racing season, Breeders’ Cup and more at Del Mar Rotary meeting


By Kristina Houck

Just a week before Opening Day, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club President and CEO Joe Harper talked about racing season, the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and more at the July 10 Del Mar Rotary meeting.

The racing season kicks off on July 17. From fancy hats to celebrity sightings, Opening Day is one of the area’s biggest social events. It is expected to draw more than 45,000 people, according to event organizers.

“Opening Day is the easiest day to market,” Harper said. “They just show up.”

The 36-day summer meet runs through Sept. 3. This year, the track will debut its new turf, featuring a wider racing surface that accommodates more horses. The track will replace its synthetic Polytrack with a dirt surface over the next year, Harper said.

There are 43 stakes races scheduled. The main event will once again be the $1 million Grade I TVG Pacific Classic, which is set for Aug. 24.

But Del Mar racing doesn’t end when school begins. For the first time, the track will also host a fall meet.

“It’s going to be completely different,” Harper said.

The 15-day fall meet begins Nov. 7 and runs through Nov. 30. The meet will have a Hollywood theme, with horses and races named after celebrities, Harper said.

“We’ve got a great brand in the summer,” Harper said. “We’ve got pretty girls and pretty guys — you don’t see any horses — in our ads. … We have to rebrand November. We can’t go with the summer dresses.”

With the Rotary meeting taking place just a couple weeks after it was announced that the Breeders’ Cup is coming to Del Mar in 2017, many members wanted to hear about the big event.

“The Breeders’ Cup is the biggest day of racing,” said Harper during the meeting at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. “It’s going to be great here.”

It will be the first time the Breeders’ Cup will be held in Del Mar in the event’s 30-year history.

The Breeders’ Cup will also be held for the first time at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Ky., next year. In 2016, the Breeders’ Cup will return to this year’s location, Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles suburb of Arcadia, according to Breeders’ Cup officials.

“They [Breeders’ Cup officials] were blown away by the hotels, the restaurants, the racetrack itself,” Harper said.

The two-day event is set for Nov. 3-4. The Breeders’ Cup is expected to draw a crowd of 75,000 to 100,000 people and an estimated $70 million in event revenue.

The Del Mar track opened 77 years ago on July 3, 1937. Over the years, the track has not only established a reputation for outstanding racing, but all-around entertainment, Harper said.

“We’ve marketed Del Mar very successfully over the last 20 years,” Harper said. “You’ve got to have an enjoyable experience even if you don’t care about racing or don’t know how to make a bet.

“No one does it better than San Diego.”

For more information about the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, visit

For more information about the Rotary Club of Del Mar, visit