Joe Harper has decided to spend more mornings on horseback during the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s annual racing season and less time dealing with paperwork.

Harper, who turns 67 on Saturday, relinquished the titles of president and general manager to Craig Fravel on Tuesday. Harper will maintain the title of chief executive officer. Fravel, 53, previously held the title of executive vice president.

“This has been in the works for a while,” said Harper, who is known to travel the Del Mar backstretch on his horse in the mornings to talk to horsemen. “I’m not getting any younger. Craig is a smart guy, and he deserves the title.

“I’m going to stick around as CEO just to bug him.”

Harper said he has no plans to retire from Del Mar, but he decided to cut back on his day-to-day duties.

“Craig has been handling the nitty-gritty stuff lately,” Harper said. “He will be able to get more done now with the title. Everyone is happy.”

Fravel has been groomed for Harper’s job since being hired by Del Mar in 1990. Fravel is a graduate of the University of Virginia law school and practiced law in Washington and San Diego before coming to Del Mar.

“I don’t expect things to change,” Fravel said. “I see it as part of a seamless process. We both work well together. I think it will just be a subtle shift.

“When you have a small company, everyone is involved with everything already. This gives some younger people a chance to move up.”

Fravel was instrumental in Del Mar changing its main track from dirt to the controversial Polytrack synthetic surface, which was installed in 2007.

The change in job titles was approved Monday at a board of directors meeting. Fravel and Harper will both report to the 11-person board, of which Harper is a member.

Two other promotions were announced. Mike Ernst now carries the title of executive vice president for finance and chief financial officer, while Tom Robbins is executive vice president for racing and industry relations/racing secretary.

On the racing front, Harper said Del Mar will ask for the same 37-day meet it requested last year despite the fact that Hollywood Park announced last week that it’s going to a four-day race week for part of its meet, dropping six Thursdays.

“We are not contemplating (dropping days),” Harper said, “but we’ll see what the horse population is in July.”

California racing has been fighting smaller fields and a lack of horses due to multiple factors.

Del Mar could be further hurt this summer by the fact that Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., will offer an average of $1 million a day in purses during its meet. Monmouth Park will race on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, along with certain holiday Mondays.

Jockey Garrett Gomez, one of Del Mar’s leading riders, has already announced that he will ride this summer in New Jersey. Some Southern California horsemen are expected to consider sending horses to compete for the large purse structure.

“Obviously, that’s a concern for us,” Harper said of Monmouth Park’s announcement.



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