06/18/2010 12:00AM

Wygods will not be easily replaced

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The announcement last week by owners and breeders Marty and Pam Wygod that they plan to disperse a majority of their California-bred holdings at Barretts sales in Pomona, Calif., this fall and put their River Edge Farm in Buellton, Calif., on the market was met with disappointment and concern by the owners of three of the state's leading farms.

Pete Parrella, who operates Legacy Ranch in Clements, Scoop Vessels of Vessels Stallion Farm in Bonsall, and Tom Stull of Tommy Town Thoroughbreds in Santa Ynez, each said that the Wygods operation at River Edge Farm was held in the highest regard by peers, and that its absence will leave a void in the state's Thoroughbred breeding industry.

Marty Wygod said on Wednesday that his family's Thoroughbred breeding holdings will be concentrated in Kentucky in the future, and that the Barretts dispersal will feature approximately 100 broodmares, weanlings and yearlings. He and his wife will continue to race in California, where they reside in Rancho Santa Fe, near Del Mar.

Well-known for racing Life Is Sweet, the winner of the 2009 Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic at Santa Anita, Marty Wygod, 70, said he will retain ownership interests in the four stallions currently residing at River Edge Farm. Wygod owns Benchmark and Tribal Rule and is a partner in the ownership of Bertrando and Dixie Chatter. The stallions will be relocated to other farms in 2011; Wygod said he is hopeful they will stay in California.

Stull considers River Edge a neighbor, and one whose operation was admired for its quality and success.

"It's kind of a shock that he's getting out of the [California] business," Stull said. "That's a hard blow for California. My wife and I are kind of sad he's shutting that down. For all California, he's been one of the leading operations for quite a while."

Parrella is vice president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, and through that role is actively pursing ways to increase financial opportunities for owners and breeders. Last year, the CTBA was proactive in developing a bonus program that pays a California-bred who wins a maiden special weight race in Southern California a $20,000 bonus above the purse. A win in the same category is worth $10,000 on the Northern California circuit.

The loss of Wygod, Parrella said, "is another hurdle we have to climb. He's a good breeder in California. It sure doesn't help. He's had a lot of success with his California-breds and he's had great success with his stallions."

Parrella said a group of leading farm owners is planning a roundtable discussion on the state of California racing and breeding at Del Mar on July 24. One topic will be ways to enhance financial opportunities for breeders at a time when the state's annual Thoroughbred foal crop is declining. In addition, Wygod's dispersal is likely to be discussed.

"We've got to give breeders a chance to recoup some of their investment for breeding in California," he said.

Vessels compared the Wygod's success to that of the late John and Betty Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm in Ramona from the 1980s until earlier this decade.

"Marty and Pam have been so good putting quality racehorses on the racetrack, representing California," Vessels said. "The Mabees were that way for years. Marty Wygod picked up where they were and went on from that.

"We want to be like that. They're going to be really missed."

Vessels said the idea of shifting some of his farm's Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse operation to other states has crossed his mind in the past, particularly if Texas were to ever receive enhanced purses through alternative forms of gaming.

He said costs, particularly California's labor laws, make it difficult for farm owners.

"California is not helping their horsemen very well," he said. "At some point, it doesn't make any sense to have a farm in California. Eventually, people have to look at what the Wygods have done and maybe considering doing it themselves. I think there are some opportunities in Kentucky. Now might be the time to make that kind of move. It doesn't surprise me that people as sharp as the Wygods have decided to leave California."

The Wygods ranked 17th in national earnings for owners in 2009, with $2,754,324. Over the years, their California-bred stakes winners have included Carribbean Pirate, Echo of Yesterday, Feverish, Idiot Proof, Officer, Private Persuasion, Pirate's Revenge, Proposed, Silent Sighs, Smooth Player, and Unfurl the Flag. The late Pirate's Bounty stood at River Edge and was the state's leading stallion by progeny earnings three times in the 1990s. Bertrando earned that title twice in the 2000s.

Marty Wygod said on Wednesday that the decision to disperse his California-bred holdings was not made at the spur of the moment.

"We've been transitioning most of our mares to Kentucky in the last five years," he said. "We have more and more stallions that we have an interest in. Our primarily focus will be breeding in Kentucky. We'll still be racing to a degree in California."

He said he hopes that River Edge Farm will remain in the horse community, particularly with a person who has an interest in Thoroughbreds.

"I'd like to sell it to someone who wants to buy it as a horse farm," Wygod said. "If it can stay that way, that's what I would prefer."