Page 26 - NM Summer 2023
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                   24 New Mexico Horse Breeder
    But under Harold’s leadership, Sunland Park went beyond success with the bottom line. Along with owner Stan Fulton and current director of racing Dustin Dix, they worked diligently to get the Sunland Derby designated as a Grade 3 stakes race. The Sunland Derby, which debuted in 2003, is now a prep race for the Kentucky Derby.
“He had so many crowning achievements, the Sunland Derby among them,” said Dix. “He was here from the beginning of gaming. What he turned the Sunland Derby into. What he turned the casino into and just the whole property.”
Ten years after his retirement, Harold’s fan base is strong as ever.
“A lot of people still ask about Harold,” said Dix. “It’s everybody. The bettors, the horsemen, the staff. If I tell them I’m going to see him, I always get the same reaction. They want me to say Hi.”
Perhaps no one got a better first-hand look at Harold’s leadership style, his work ethic and sense of humor than Dix. He has been at Sunland Park for 21 years and Harold was his boss for the first 11.
It was Harold who promoted Dix from mutuals manager to director of racing in January of 2004. It was Harold who was both mentor and guidance counselor to Dustin-- sometimes with tough love but always with good intentions.
“He was hard on me, but I understand it now because what he did, of demanding excellence, has made me who I am today,” said Dix. “I was green and thought I knew everything. Harold had probably run across a lot of guys like me. Over the years our relationship evolved. Now, we’re friends.”
Dix says his first impression of Harold
was that he was extremely knowledgeable and respected. Dix says Harold was the epitome of been there, done that.
“I think that was really the key to Harold’s success, coming from the ground up,” says Dix. “If he asked me something,
 change forever. A change that would benefit New Mexico’s horse racing industry for decades to come.
Liz Devine was the nominations secretary at Ruidoso Downs when Harold first went there in the summer of 1971. She admired the young college student who was willing to take on
the most menial of jobs. One of those was counting the number of cars in the parking lot with Texas and New Mexico license plates every race day.
Harold had planned to go to veterinary school and to that end in the summer of 1973 accepted an offer to do an internship with a vet in Oklahoma. He had graduated from Texas Tech in December of 1972.
Liz Devine found out about it and decided to do what she could to make sure Harold stayed in New Mexico. She went to Sunland Park General Manager Richard Thompson.
“She told Thompson, `you can’t let this guy go. You get him a job at Sunland Park, and you pay him. I don’t care what it is.’ “She was a people person and one of the greatest people I ever met in my life,” says Harold.
So, Harold turned down the internship in Oklahoma and accepted a ground level job at Sunland that fall.
When Harold took over as general manager at Sunland, the entire New Mexico horse racing industry was on the ropes. Not enough money and not enough horses had become a lethal combination.
“We came very close to closing,” Harold noted in an interview 10 years ago with this magazine. Again, from the previous interview: “I remember begging the owners for $30,000 to pay the bills. We got so short of horses; we ended up running seven races a day.”
The sport survived in New Mexico and at other tracks across the country in large part to the approval of slot machine gaming at the tracks. Harold guided Sunland through that transition and Sunland became the state’s premier track.
 Harold said it was his cardiologist who finally diagnosed the problem correctly.
“It turned out to be my stupid gall bladder,” says Harold. “They took it out and six months later I was fine.”
He says he’s regained the 40 pounds he lost during the illness, with maybe another 10 pounds in interest.
It’s been 10 years since Harold retired
as general manager of Sunland Park. His successful career and how he got there have been well documented but suffice it to say he got his first job at Sunland in 1973 and literally worked his way up from the parking lot.
His first job was overseeing the parking lot and admissions department. The list of jobs that followed included paddock judge, clocker, tattooer, steward, assistant starter, and assistant racing secretary. He was also the racing secretary at Ruidoso Downs for three years.
He was promoted to general manager at Sunland in 1993.
While in college at Texas Tech, he spent summers working at Ruidoso Downs. And it was at Ruidoso that Harold’s career path would
 “A lot of people still ask about Harold. It’s everybody. The bettors, the horsemen, the staff. If I tell them I’m going to see him, I always get the same reaction. They want me to say Hi.” – Dustin Dix

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