May 21 Goffs UK Spring Store Sale 2024 HIPS
May 21 JBBA Hokkaido 2YOs in Training Sale 2024 HIPS
May 22 Goffs UK Spring HIT/PTP Sale 2024 HIPS
May 24 Tattersalls Ireland Goresbridge Breeze Up Sale 2024 HIPS
Jun 12 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. June 2YOs & Horses of Racing Age Sale 2024 HIPS
View All Auctions

Prominent Owner/Breeder Wygod Dies at 84

Marty Wygod bred 124 stakes winners, including Wood Memorial winner Resilience.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Martin J. Wygod, one of the Thoroughbred racing community's most prominent owners, breeders, and supporters died April 12 in California. He was 84.

Wygod was born in New York City, where he was first introduced to the Thoroughbred industry as a hotwalker at Belmont Park. He went to high school with Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel and worked as a hotwalker at 15 for trainers Woody Stephens and Homer Pardue.

After graduating from New York University, he began his entrepreneurial career with the late Fletcher Jones' Computer Sciences. Jones, who founded Westerly Stud in California's Santa Ynez Valley, not far from where Wygod would create River Edge Farm, gave Wygod his first two horses, both of which won.

Through hard work, acumen and commitment, he reached the pinnacle of success both in his business career and in the world of Thoroughbred breeding and racing. He was the youngest managing partner of a New York Stock Exchange brokerage in the 1960s and then Wygod entered the home medical services industry with Glasrock Medical Services. Over a 10-year period, he built Medco Containment Services into the nation's largest mail-order prescription drug company. In 1993, he sold Medco to pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. for $6.5 billion. Wygod later served as chairman of the board of directors of WebMD, the leading provider of health information services to consumers, physicians, health care professionals, employers, and health plans. 

Wygod and his wife, Pamela, bred, owned, and raced Thoroughbreds for over 50 years. Their top horses include 2004 Eclipse champion 2-year-old filly Sweet Catomine and multiple grade 1 winner Life Is Sweet, both produced from homebred mare Sweet Life; and the brilliant race fillies Tranquility Lake and Exotic Wood. The Wygods' race fillies in turn became the foundation mares of one of the most influential broodmare bands in the country.

The Wygods owned River Edge Farm near Buellton, Calif., for 35 years and raised the fillies and colts that would become top racehorses and later return to the broodmare band and breeding shed. Their highly successful breeding operations shifted to Kentucky in 2010, where they board mares, foals, and yearlings at Lane's End. The Wygod family breeding program is represented this year on the Triple Crown trail by the colt Resilience, recent winner of the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2). Resilience, sired by Into Mischief , was produced by the mare Meadowsweet, a winning daughter of Tranquility Lake.

Resilience is raced by the Wygods' daughter Emily Bushnell and longtime bloodstock consultant and friend Ric Waldman, who started working with the Wygods around 30 years ago while he was working for W.T. Young's Overbrook Farm. 

"I considered him one of my closest friends. The last few years have been even closer for us and I'm glad to have had that friendship. I can't say enough about him because I have such strong feelings for the man," said Waldman.

"We had great conversations, and I loved to exchange ideas," he continued. "I hope I was able to get his mind working toward different breeding theories or ideas about racing management, but he also got my mental juices going. He respected what I had to say but he was not afraid to challenge it, so I had to sure be able to defend it. He was not one to put up with BS, so we shared that ease of straight talking with one another. I wanted him to come up with questions, I wanted him to challenge, or just accept it. If he accepted it, then that told me I was right."

Wygod was remembered for his devotion to his family—his daughter Emily and his son Max, his compassion and loyalty to the people around him, and for his commitment to the sport of racing. 

"Marty was a great friend to Lane's End and a great friend to my father for a long time," recalled Bill Farish of Lane's End, noting that his father W.S. Farish and Wygod were most involved together in developing stallions, such as Twirling Candy . "I don't know if you can put one finger on their success, but they had perseverance (as owner/breeders). They were there year after year and never wavered in their excitement for the sport. He loved all aspects, he loved the debate and discussion, and he had strong opinions. In the end, he was going to make the decision, and I respected that about him."

Alone and in partnerships, the Wygods bred 124 stakes winners that included 32 graded stakes winners, of which 15 were grade 1 winners. The Wygods campaigned 21 of their graded stakes winners as homebreds, led by grade 1 winners After Market, Harmonious, Idiot Proof, Key Phrase, Life Is Sweet, Pirate's Revenge, Private Persuasion, Silent Sighs, Sweet Catomine, and Unfurl the Flag.

Co-owner Martin Wygod, right, wait's for the return of After Market and jockey Alex Solis, with trainer John Shirreffs, left, following After Market's victory in the Grade III, $100,000 Inglewood Handicap, Saturday, April 28, 2007 at Hollywood Park, Inglewood CA.<br>
Photo: Benoit Photo
Martin Wygod (right) and John Shirreffs, trainer of After Market, after their victory in the 2007 Inglewood Handicap at Hollywood Park

"Breeding is inexact and I think he loved applying his creative juices to that. He was very involved with his horses, which is why it was so much fun working with him, and it was instinctive," said Waldman. "I'm sure there were similarities with how he approached other businesses. He told me many times his biggest strength in building his companies was the people he accumulated to run them. They were more important to him than the business model. He loved assembling a good team.

"He had a way with people and developing friendships. He was a loyal friend and compassionate. He took care of a lot of people behind the scenes. Foremost, he was a committed family man."

The Wygods' stallion operation in California got established by homebred Pirate's Bounty, a son of Hoist the Flag out of Bad Seed, by Stevward. Pirate's Bounty won the 1979 Millburn Stakes at The Meadowlands and earned $95,984, but Wygod always felt that an injury in the starting gate at an early age compromised the horse's racing career.

When the young stallion did not get the support from breeders he felt Pirate's Bounty deserved, he supported him with 40-50 of own mares, according to an earlier interview with the late Russell Drake, who managed the farm.

Pirate's Bounty found quick success. The Wygods bred the stallion's first graded winner, Wayward Pirate, who defeated another daughter of Pirate's Bounty, Pirate's Glow, and future Horse of the Year Lady's Secret in the 1984 Anoakia Stakes (G3). Pirate's Bounty was California's leading freshman sire that season, and he led all California sires in 1992, 1994, and 1995. Wygod-bred runners by Pirate's Bounty included Bountiful Native, California-bred champion older female of 1992; and Pirate's Revenge, Cal-bred champion older female of 1995. Pirate's Bounty was inducted into the California Racing Hall of Fame in 2011.

River Edge would later stand 1993 California Horse of the Year, multiple state champion, and 1993 Eclipse champion older horse Bertrando, and Benchmark, who sired 2013 Eclipse Award champion sprinter and California-bred Horse of the Year Points Offthebench and Cal-bred champs Brother Derek and Bench Points. Benchmark led to Wygod acquiring that horse's half sister Tranquility Lake, who is the second dam of Resilience.

Resilience wins the 2024 Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct
Photo: Coglianese Photos
Resilience wins the Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack

"He gifted Resilience to Emily and me, unexpectedly. He gifted his best horse and knew it was his best horse," said Waldman. "I feel like I am a steward of this horse for him and will always feel that way. (Marty) will be there with us. He was our secret weapon in us getting this far. We talked numerous times a day about Resilience. The planning for the Risen Star and what to do with him after the Risen Star. He will be on this flight with us."