Updated: December 27, 2018 at 4:32 pm
Joe Harper, Chief Executive Officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, will be honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding achievement in Thoroughbred racing, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters announced Thursday.
“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 and four-time Eclipse Award 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.”
During Harper’s time at Del Mar’s helm, the track underwent an $80-million grandstand reconstruction, introduced its now-signature GI Pacific Classic, added a fall meeting, and hosted its first Breeders’ Cup in 2017.
“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 1978, Harper took on a leadership role at Del Mar after serving at Santa Anita as Executive Vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Association. At Del Mar, Harper first served as executive vice president and general manager. In 1990 he took on the roles of president and chief executive officer. He relinquished the role of president in 2018, but continues as the track’s CEO. He has been a director of DMTC since 1985.
“Under Joe Harper’s leadership, the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club has been one of Thoroughbred racing’s great success stories for many years,” said Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA. “Joe’s acute attention to the customer experience, his ability to assemble an extremely talented management team, and his willingness to adapt to the changes confronting our sport over the years while maintaining the highest standards make him a very worthy recipient of the Award of Merit.”
Harper will receive the Award of Merit during the Eclipse Awards Dinner and Ceremony Jan. 24 at Gulfstream Park.