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Martin Wygod, former health care executive turned successful horse breeder and owner, dies at 84

LA JOLLA, Calif. (AP) — Martin Wygod, who parlayed his financial success as an executive in the healthcare industry into becoming a prominent owner and breeder in thoroughbred racing, has died. He was 84.

He died in his sleep Thursday at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, near his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Del Mar racetrack said Friday after being informed by his wife, Pam.

Wygod’s racing career figures to have at least one more chapter.

He gave his 3-year-old colt, Resilience, whom he and his wife had bred, to his daughter, Emily Bushnell, and longtime bloodstock consultant Ric Waldman. Last week, the horse won the Wood Memorial in New York to earn a berth in the 150th Kentucky Derby on May 4.

None of Wygod’s horses ever competed in the Kentucky Derby.

As a teenager in his native New York City, Wygod worked on the back stretches of Belmont Park and Aqueduct walking horses after their morning workouts. That’s when he met and befriended another young New Yorker named Bobby Frankel, who would go on to become a Hall of Fame trainer.

After graduating from New York University in 1961, Wygod worked on Wall Street as a stockbroker before shifting to the management side. He formed and sold several companies and was a multi-millionaire before age 30.

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

Wygod was introduced to horse ownership on his 25th birthday, when he received two racehorses from his California friend and business partner Fletcher Jones. Eventually, Wygod and his wife Pam traded New York for California, and in 1994 began their breeding and farm operation in Buellton.

Wygod won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies with Sweet Catomine, who won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s 2-year-old filly champion. He won the 2009 BC Classic with Life Is Sweet. His other major stakes winners included Tranquility Lake, After Market and Courageous Cat.

Wygod and his wife’s racing operation had career purse earnings of over $21.1 million, with their best year in 2009 when they totaled $2,754,324.

Wygod was honored as California’s leading breeder in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Among the notable trainers he worked with were Hall of Famer Bill Mott, John Shirreffs, Jimmy Jerkens and John Sadler.

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,” Del Mar CEO Joe Harper said. “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.”

Besides his wife and daughter, Wygod is survived by son Max.

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