In 1976, Peter Vegso moved from Toronto to Florida to start a business, which at the time, was called the U.S. Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

“It was all related to information for professionals and for the general public about alcohol and drug use,” Vegso said. “We did that for a number of years and then we started doing other things like books that were about public health. One of our first books we ever published was Adult Children of Alcoholics by Janet Roditz, which became a New York Times bestseller.”

Vegso then started doing conferences called U.S. Journal conferences, which was intended primarily for professionals working in the addiction and recovery fields.

“Jack Canfield was one of the speakers that we would hire on occasion to speak at our conferences,” Vegso said. “Jack wanted us to publish a book for him on, I think it was personality issues, and I said I’d do the headings and we had contracts with him. But he never did come through with a manuscript.”

Then one day Canfield called Vegso again.

“He and Mark Victor Hansen had already hired an agent and apparently had gone to more than 80 New York publishers with a book called Chicken Soup for the Soul and they got turned down by everybody. So, they wanted to come to the big convention where publishers from all over the world would show up to pitch it. So, I said that’s fine, you could do that—we knew them pretty well by then,” Vegso continued.

Jack Canfield and co-founder Mark Victor Hansen spent the next few days at the conference pitching it.

“And when I was leaving on Saturday, usually those conferences went from a Monday to a Sunday, I hear somebody yelling my name: Peter, Peter! I turn around and Jack says I want you to read the manuscript. I don’t have to I said—I’ll be happy to publish it for you,” Vegso said. “‘But you still have to read it’ , Jack had insisted. So, I said, ‘Okay. Give it to me and I’ll start reading it while I’m waiting for my flight home.’ I read about five or six stories in the airport and I had tears coming out of my eyes. I was sitting there thinking, oh my God, what are people going to think about this guy sitting here crying? So, I decided to stop reading there and finish it at home and my business partner, Gary Seidler, read a little bit of it and we decided to publish it.”

As many know, the Chicken Soup for the Soul books then went on to be a USA Today bestselling series.

Vegso says he always had a love for nature, though.

“I used to go spend my summers with my grandmother at her farm when I was a kid in Canada outside of Montreal. A place called the Eastern Townships—it was beautiful out there. I can still remember that farm,” Vegso says.

His love of nature later turned into a love of horses.

“My business partner and I used to go to Woodbine to watch some races. One day, we said to ourselves, ‘God, if we had enough money, we’d buy a horse.’ But we were pretty broke back then. And then, we started our own business and strangely enough, when we drove to Florida, the first place we stopped at was Calder Race Course.”

As Vegso’s businesses flourished, he re-visited the idea of owning a racehorse.

“Our real estate lawyer was a fellow by the name of Jeff Perlow, who happened to sort of be into horses. He had partners and horses and I think it was about 1988 when he asked us if we wanted to get involved with three horses that he had. We owned about five percent of the three and one of those was Express Star. I fell in love with her and she did well. She was a nice little stakes winner. We moved up to 50% ownership for the next bunch of horses and then I just started buying horses on my own. I think it was in 1995 that I bought a farm in Ocala. We started breeding a little bit and we ended up with some really good horses early on like Orchard Park and Silver Tree and they both won the Virginia Derby.”

Vegso has also raced graded stakes winners such as Go Between, Splendid Blended, and had a partnership in 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (G1)-winner Unrivaled Belle. In 2016, Unrivaled Belle then went to the Keeneland’s November Breeding Stock Sale and sold for $3.8 million. The purchase price for Unrivaled Belle was the highest for a Thoroughbred sold at public auction in the world that year.

Last year, Vegso had a horse scheduled to run in the Kentucky Derby, named Lord Miles, which would have been his first Kentucky Derby starter. Unfortunately, he had to scratch per his trainer due to injury.

“Lord Miles will be coming back sometime this year. He’s been off for quite a while because after the Derby, he had some ups and downs. He’s a lovely horse and he’s named after my wife’s aunt who was a big horse person in England. She just loves horses and racing. So, we named a horse after her, Lady Esby. When we had this baby, we called him Lord Miles, because Miles was her husband’s last name,” Vegso explained.

Today, Vegso has about 20 horses at his farm and does everything from breeding to training on his farm training track as well as shipping his young horses to trainers on the racetracks.

“It’s so quiet and peaceful and beautiful here,” Vegso said of his Marion County Farm.

“Thoroughbreds are interesting—they’re a lot like people, really. They have great sense and can tell if you’re afraid or if you like them. There’s just something about them, and they have a great sense of feeling for everything around them,” Vegso said.

Return to the Feb. 20 issue of Wire to Wire