Twin Palms in Pasadena was jammed with 400 guests on April 23 to honor Joe and Barbara Harper of Del Mar at the annual Edwin J. Gregson Foundation benefit hosted by California Thoroughbred Trainers.
About $100,000 was raised for the foundation, which since its inception seven years ago, has raised close to $1 million specifically for educational purposes for backstretch workers and their families.
Following a video tribute and an introduction by Peter Tunney, Del Mar Thoroughbred Club officials Craig Fravel, executive vice president, and Tom Robbins, vice president-racing, spoke glowingly of the track’s long-time president, CEO, and general manager and wife Barbara.
The Harpers have long been viewed as the unofficial hosts and ambassadors of goodwill of the seven-week summer meet at the San Diego County coastal track.
For those in the racing industry who view Del Mar as a sort of summer camp, Joe and Barbara are perceived as its counselors.
CTT honored the Harpers for their outstanding leadership and countless charitable efforts to benefit those in need and for their many achievements and contributions to the horse racing industry.
Joe has donated his time as chairman of Winners Foundation, director of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, chairman of the advisory board of the UC Davis Center for Equine Health and a member of the advisory board of the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program. Barbara has been busy with roles in numerous civic projects. Joe and Barbara have been married 43 years and are the parents of four daughters.
Joe, grandson of legendary Hollywood director Cecil B. de Mille, joined the track in 1977 and since taking over its leadership has orchestrated one of the biggest success stories in the sport. “Joe is simply the best,” said Robbins. “His demeanor and style are perfect for the job.” Fravel added, “Joe and Barbara both know the importance of putting on a good show.”
Harper took the microphone from his wife with his usual impeccable timing, deferring to her as the power behind the scenes and saying, “Thank you, Gracie.” After several moments of roast-style humor, Harper turned serious and underscored the significance of the event and the late trainer after whom it was named. “
Eddie Gregson was a guy I always went to, and he’d give it to me, right between the eyes,” said Harper appreciatively of the trainer’s no-holds-barred candor. “I wish there were more guys like him in the industry.”
One of the most fruitful programs in the foundation is a fund for scholarship grants that has enabled more than 60 individuals to attend college. New grant recipients last year were Michael Ascanio, Bobby Ochoa, Lyssa Ortega, Francisco Rangel, Mayra Salmeron, Angel Solorzano, Luis Solorzano, and Daniel Valenzuela.
Noting the myriad problems plaguing the industry in recent years, Harper hoped the scholarship money would be well invested. “I hope some of you kids stick around to help us,” said Harper. “Our future is in your hands.”