John Ward

John Ward

Anne M. Eberhardt

New Duties Await Veteran Trainer John Ward

He's set to become executive director of Kentucky Horse Racing Commission April 1.

After 40 years as a trainer, John Ward is in the final days of overseeing his small stable of horses at Gulfstream Park as he prepares to assume his new duties as executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission April 1.

The 66-year-old native Kentuckian, who reached the summit of the Thoroughbred world in 2001 by saddling Monarchos for a Kentucky Derby (gr. I) victory, will surrender his training license at the end of the month.

“I’ve got tremendous experience, not only on the training side of it, but I have a lot of experience as far as the administration of the racing rules. I’ve been on the Kentucky Racing Commission three different times,” said Ward recently during a break at Palm Meadows Training Center. “I’ve put a lot of time into the business to make it healthy and keep it moving forward.”

With deep roots in the Kentucky racing industry, Ward could seem uniquely qualified to lead the commission.

“I’ve made a lot of friends and acquaintances, so I think it will help me move racing forward quicker,” said Ward, a graduate of the University of Kentucky with a degree in agricultural economics. “Sometimes that’s where the problem is, there’s no communication between the different groups in racing.”

In addition to Monarchos, who won the 2001 Florida Derby (gr. I) at Gulfstream before capturing the Run for the Roses, Ward trained the great mare Beautiful Pleasure, the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) and Eclipse Award champion.

Currently, Ward is training John Oxley's Dancinginherdreams, the nearly white 4-year-old mare who recently won an allowance race in her 2012 debut at Gulfstream. A stakes-winner at 2, the daughter of Tapit  went winless last year, although she did finish second in both the Forward Gal (gr. II) and the Davona Dale (gr. II) at Gulfstream.

“She’s been training good. Last year, she had to be kept with a pony. Now, she gallops by herself. She’s still tricky and hard to manage, but she’s doing good and (jockey) Edgar Prado was happy with her,” Ward said.

When Dancinginherdreams races next, it’s likely that Ward's wife, Donna, who was so instrumental in the success of Beautiful Pleasure, will be listed as her trainer.

“Mr. Oxley said we can play out the hand. So if everything works right, she’ll pick up the conditioning of Dancinginherdreams,” Ward said. “All of those things are going to be reviewed by the state of Kentucky’s ethics board, and so we’re going to get a clear-cut decision on what can happen and can’t happen inside the state of Kentucky.”

Ward succeeds Lisa Underwood, who left her position at the KHRC in November 2011 to become partner in a Lexington law firm. Ward will give up his current post as a commissioner of the KHRC.

Ward is a third-generation trainer who also has maintained a stable in New York. He also conditioned 1995 Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) winner Gal in a Ruckus and grade I winner Sky Mesa .

He is a founding member and past president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, where he helped in the implementation of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund.