When racing gets personal


Del Mar is backyard for California’s top horse owners

By Julie Sarno

The season at Del Mar brings racing to Martin and Pam Wygod’s backyard.

The Rancho Santa Fe residents have been in racing for more than 40 years. Through the years, their breeding and racing operation has produced many successful runners. In 2006, they took over as the leading thoroughbred breeders in California–ranked by earnings–and repeated as the leaders in 2007.

They look forward to the Del Mar race meet and have 20 horses stabled at Del Mar. They are looking forward to seeing 3-year-old filly Smooth Performer, recently second in the Hollywood Oaks (Gr. II), compete in stakes races and watch their 2-year-olds develop.

The Wygods have horses with California-based trainers Dan Hendricks, John Shirreffs and Clifford Sise. East Coast-based Bill Mott also conditions some of their runners.

Last year the Wygods raced After Market, voted Horse of the Meet, after his impressive victories in last summer’s Eddie Read (Gr. I) and Del Mar (Gr. II) Handicaps. After Market now stands at stud at the prestigious Lane’s End in Versailles, Ken. The Wygod’s 2007 success also included a runner named Idiot Proof, voted leading California 3-year-old and Sprinter after his second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (Gr. I). He won the Jersey Shore Breeders’ Cup (Gr. III) in track record time and the Ancient Title (Gr. I) at Santa Anita. Idiot Proof was stakes-placed at Del Mar last season, finishing third in the Real Good Deal. This past March, Idiot Proof, placed second in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. Idiot Proof, who is trained by Cliff Sise, will run at Del Mar this summer in the Green Flash stakes race.

Martin Wygod’s love of racing has been lifelong. He has been involved with racing since his teen years growing up in New York when he walked hot horses at Aqueduct and Belmont. Horses need to be cooled after galloping, working or racing. Trainers either employ people - known as hotwalkers - to walk the horses or use a machine which somewhat resembles a carousel when horses are cooling out. During those years, Wygod was around the barns of veteran trainers.

For several years, Wygod’s involvement in racing took a backseat to his career. He worked closely with the late Fletcher Jones in developing Computer Sciences in the early 1960s. Wygod was the youngest managing partner of a New York Stock Exchange brokerage firm in the 1960s. In the 1970s he created Glasrock Medical Services and in the 1980s he created Medco Containment Services, the nation’s largest mail order pharmacy. In 1993 he sold Medco to the pharmaceutical giant, Merck & Co. for $6 billion. In 1995, he moved with his family to Rancho Santa Fe to focus more on his horses. He currently serves as chairman of HLT Corporation as well as chairman of the board of WebMd, a provider of health information services to consumers, physicians, employers and health plans.

In 1975 he created River Edge Farm along with Russell Drake, his farm manager. Wygod added with a chuckle, “ At this point I can’t get rid of him with a stick, and I am lucky if he lets me on the farm.”

Wife Pam plays a key role. According to her husband, “She does everything and occasionally lets me pet the horses. Kidding aside, she is a full partner.”

Pam works with Marty to decide which stallions the mares will be bred to and which trainers the 2-year-olds will be sent to. She also names the foals and does all the online pedigree and workout research as well as paying all the bills.

In addition to her work with the horses, Pam Wygod runs two foundations, the Rose Foundation and the WebMD Health Foundation, which deals primarily with health and health education. One of the WebMD Health Foundation projects is working through UCSD to fund a free health clinic staffed by medical students and run by Dr. Ellen Beck. Locally, the Wygods’ philanthropy has included donating toward rebuilding the Power House in Del Mar and funding a Wellness Center at the San Dieguito Boys & Girls Club in Solana Beach, to educate children about nutrition.

“Eating healthy means you have less risk of developing diabetes and other health problems,” said Pam. The Wygods have two grown children, Max and Emily.

“Emily jumps and shows horses,” said Martin Wygod. “She owns a one-third interest in Gentle Romeo, a 4-year-old who will be at Del Mar this season with Clifford Sise. This is her first racehorse. Max, who is in his junior year at Duke University, loves to bet on winners.”

In addition to his long involvement in Thoroughbred breeding and racing, Wygod holds a number of prestigious posts in racing. He serves on the board of directors of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. In 1996, he became a trustee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and a member of The Jockey Club.

At their River Edge Farm near Buellton, the Wygods stand several stallions, including Bertrando, winner of the 1993 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. Bertrando was the leading sire of California breds by earnings for 2007. At River Edge the Wygods also stand Benchmark and Tribal Rule, the leading sire of 2-year-olds by earnings for 2007. His leading earner was Georgie Boy, winner of last season’s Del Mar Futurity on closing day.