John C. Mabee, a founding member of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and its leader for almost 25 years, is stepping down from his role as chairman of its board of directors and will be named director emeritus with the start of the New Year.Del Mar's current board of directors consists of 10 individuals, including Mabee. No immediate successor to the role of chairman has been designated. Mabee, 80, was in the original group of California owners and breeders who founded Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in 1970 to take over the operation of Del Mar racetrack and its summer race meet. He assumed the role of DMTC's president in 1978, then in 1990 became the group's chairman to help lead an $80-million rebuilding of the track's facilities.Mabee, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, moved to California in 1943 after marrying his high school sweetheart, Betty. After a year's stop in Nevada, the couple and their newborn son landed in San Diego to put down roots that were to have a major impact on California's southernmost city. The Mabees built a lone mom-and-pop grocery store into the Big Bear Supermarket chain, founded the Golden Eagle Insurance Company and gradually became involved in racing on a large scale after buying two horses for a total of $6,000 at the 1957 Del Mar Yearling Sale.The Mabees own and operate the 835-acre Golden Eagle Farm over two parcels, which is home to approximately 400 racing and breeding stock, including seven stallions. Through the years, the Mabees have campaigned such celebrated graded stakes winners as General Challenge, Dramatic Gold, Excellent Meeting, Event of the Year, Souvenir Copy, and Worldly Manner. Their success on the track has earned the Mabees three Eclipse Awards in the 1990s as the nation's outstanding breeders; six Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association awards in the 1990s as California's leading breeders, and were the leading North American owners in 1992.