By Julie Sarno
Pam and Marty Wygod were involved in Thoroughbred racing long before they took up residence in Rancho Santa Fe in 1994.
It all started with a gift from a friend and business partner.
"In 1963, Fletcher Jones gave me two racehorses as a present," said Marty, adding with a chuckle, "Unfortunately, they won."
Pam recalled their decision to come to the San Diego area: "We thought 'Someday this is where we'd like to live' and someday came along. It's a wonderful area to raise a young family."
Children Emily and Max are grown. They live and work on the East Coast, where they spent their early years. Their parents pursue their interests — thoroughbred racing and horse breeding, philanthropy — on both coasts.
Now the couple, known not just for their horses but for their business acumen and philanthropic efforts, is shifting gears again.
In June, they announced plans to sell their 250-acre River Edge Farm in Buellton in the Santa Ynez Valley. They stood four stallions there — Bertrando, Tribal Rule, Benchmark and Dixie Chatter — selling the latter three to La Jollans Donald and Karen Cohn. The stallions were moved to the Cohn's Ballena Vista Farm near Ramona last week. Bertrando, property of a syndicate, also will stand at Ballena Vista.
"We've had River Edge going for 35 years," said Marty, a member of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club board of directors. "I'm 70, my farm manager, Russell Drake — who has been with me since the beginning and helped build the farm — is turning 70."
The Wygods will continue racing horses across the United States, but their thoroughbred breeding operations will be focused in Kentucky.
"The racing gods have been in our corner," said Wygod. "I'm totally elated with what we've accomplished. We hope to be able to continue to compete in graded races around the country."
The Wygods have bred and owned many top stakes winners including homebred Life Is Sweet, winner of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic; After Market, winner of Del Mar's 2007 Eddie Read Handicap, a Grade I race. He also upset California Horse of the Year Lava Man in the Whittingham Memorial (GI) in 2007.
Other prominent Wygod runners include Sweet Catomine, a full sister to Life is Sweet, and winner of the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies; Idiot Proof, second in the 2007 Sprint; and Courageous Cat, second in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. In 2007, the Wygods ranked fourth among Thoroughbred Breeders in North America ranked by earnings.
The couple is looking forward to the next start for Harmonious, winner of the recent American Oaks (GI) at Hollywood Park. She is expected to start in the Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 21. Trained by John Shirreffs, Harmonius races in the name of Marty and Pam Wygod and their daughter, Emily.
"This is the second runner for Emily," Marty said of his daughter, who is a 2008 graduate of Duke University; son Max is a 2010 graduate. "Emily plays a very active role, analyzing yearlings and weanlings. Her goal is to eventually develop a breeding and racing stable."
The Wygods have horses at Del Mar this year with trainers Shirreffs, Clifford Sise and John Sadler. Some Wygod-bred 2-year-olds might start during the Del Mar meet. They include colts Cook Inlet and Liberal Arts, a gelding, Contemplated, and Yellow Slicker, a filly. They are all in Sadler's barn.
Marty grew up in the New York metropolitan area. He began his lifelong affair with horseracing when he was in high school and walked hots at Belmont and Aqueduct. A hot walker is employed by trainers to walk horses to cool them out after a gallop or workout.
While in his 20s in the early 1960s, Marty spent time on the West Coast and pursued business interests with the late Fletcher Jones, who owned Computer Sciences Corp. Marty showed a gift for developing small companies in those early years while working with Jones.
Marty's business successes as an entrepreneur in the home medical services industry allowed him to pursue his interest in racing and breeding thoroughbred horses at the top level. In 1993, he sold Medco to pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. He serves as chairman of the board of directors of WebMD.
Pam's philanthropic work focuses on health, education and child welfare — she oversees two foundations, the Rose Foundation and the WebMD Health Foundation. Pam also grew up in the New York City area.
"The mission of the WebMD Foundation is education and health care through innovative collaborations," said the gracious and involved horse owner. "The Rose Foundation helps fund solutions to children's and women's problems — women who have abuse issues, children in foster care.
She's also been involved with founding a chapter of Cancer Care in San Diego, working on a UCSD student-run clinic to provide steady healthcare for a population which is homeless or underserved, building a children's clinic in Oceanside, working with the Senior Community Center to provide weekend meals for seniors, providing funding for the Ronald McDonald House and much more.
"One project through the Rose Foundation that brings me joy is helping a youth, he's now 15," Pam said. "He was hit by a car when he was 1 1/2 years old and has been a quadriplegic. It is his goal to walk across the stage when he graduates from high school. He is working so hard at 'Project Walk' at the Institute for Spinal Cord Recovery in Carlsbad. It's in projects like this that you really see the impact you have on a person's life."