Published Friday, April 12th, 2024   ( 1 month ago )

Martin Wygod, Highly Successful Businessman, Breeder, Owner, DMTC Board Member Passes at 84

Martin J. WygodMartin J. Wygod

Martin J. Wygod, an exceptional businessman whose love of horses led him to a second successful career as an award-winning owner and breeder, died peacefully in his sleep Thursday night at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, near his home in Rancho Santa Fe. He was 84.  

Wygod’s keen business instincts led him to get in on the ground floor of the burgeoning “online” world and its ties to the health care industry where his tallied his largest accomplishments. 

After graduating from New York University in 1961, the native New Yorker started as a Wall Street stockbroker, but then quickly shift to the management side where he proved especially adept. The young financier formed and sold several companies and was a multi-millionaire before the age of 30. 

Among his early acquisitions was Glasrock Medical Services in the 1970s that he sold for a major profit after five years of solid growth. In 1983 he established Medco Containment Services and built it into the largest mail order pharmacy in the United States. In 1993 he sold that company to the health giant Merck & Co. for more than $6 billion. He subsequently was the chairman of WebMD Health Corp., the nation’s leading provider of health information services, which he sold in 2017.

During his teenage years, Wygod found joy and a different education in “walking hots” on the backstretches of New York’s Belmont Park and Aqueduct racetracks. During that period, he met and befriended another young New Yorker named Bobby Frankel, who would go on to become a world-class horse trainer and a member of racing’s Hall of Fame.

Wygod’s introduction into horse ownership occurred on his 25th birthday when he received a gift of two racehorses from his California friend and business partner Fletcher Jones. Subsequently, he and his wife Pam gave up the east coast for California and Rancho Santa Fe in 1994 while establishing a lucrative breeding/farm operation at River Edge in Buellton, CA. 

Among the many highlights of his breeding and racing successes were 2004 Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse winner Sweet Catomine, the 2-year-old filly champion; Life Is Sweet, the winner of the 2009 BC Ladies Classic; major stakes winners Tranquility Lake, After Market and Courageous Cat; Kentucky’s 2009 Broodmare of the Year Sweet Life, as well as being saluted as California’s leading breeder in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

He worked with notable conditioners over the years including the late V.J. (Lefty) Nickerson, Bill Mott, John Shirreffs, Jimmy Jerkens, Ron Ellis, John Sadler and Cliff Sise, Jr.

Wygod was a trustee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and a member of The Jockey Club since 1996. He joined the board of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club in 1999. 

“Marty’s inclusion on our board proved to be a blessing over and over again,” said DMTC’s longtime CEO Joe Harper. “His insights and feel for both the world of business and our racing game helped us repeatedly make the kind of good decisions that have seen us rise to the top of the national racing community. We will dearly miss him.”

The Wygods have two children, Emily and Max. In a possible magical extension to Marty’s racing career, he had “gifted” his homebred 3-year-old colt Resilience to Emily and his longtime bloodstock consultant Ric Waldman. Last Saturday, the horse won the Wood Memorial in New York and will be among the favorites for this year’s 150th running of the Kentucky Derby.