By Bill Finley
John T. Ward Jr., whose many wins included a victory in the 2001 GI Kentucky Derby with Monarchos, passed away Saturday at age 75.
His death was reported by Churchill Downs, which released a statement from track president Mike Anderson.
“John Ward Jr. personified the phrase 'Kentucky hard-boot,'” Anderson said. “He was a third-generation horseman who worked tirelessly throughout his career, culminating with service as Executive Director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. The dedication to his craft as a trainer was amplified 20 years ago when he patiently prepared Monarchos to a memorable victory in the 2001 Kentucky Derby. Our hearts and prayers will be with Ward's family and friends throughout Derby Week as they grieve during this difficult time.”
It was not immediately known what the cause of death was.
Ward's grandfather, John S. Ward, his father, John T. Ward Sr. and uncle, Sherrill Ward, were also successful horsemen, who helped pave the way for the University of Kentucky graduate. Sherrill Ward is a Hall of Famer and trained Forego.
Ward sent out his first horse in 1976, but his best years would come in the '90s and early 2000s, when he teamed up with owner John Oxley. The two teamed up to win the GI Kentucky Oaks in 1995 with Gal in a Ruckus. They also campaigned Eclipse Award winner Beautiful Pleasure, the winner of the 1999 GI Breeders' Cup Distaff. In addition to the Kentucky Derby, Monarchos won the GI Florida Derby.
After starting just six horses in 2012, Ward retired from training, but stayed active in the sport. Shortly after his retirement, Ward became the executive director of the Kentucky Racing Commission and also served as the chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International. He was also a founding member and past president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, as well as the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (KTOB). He stepped down from his position at the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission in 2016.
“John Ward was a true gentleman who loved Thoroughbred racing,” the KTOB said in a statement Sunday. “Our deepest condolences to Donna.”
In a statement released Sunday evening, the Breeders' Cup said, “John T. Ward Jr. was a consummate horseman who enjoyed great success as both a trainer and as an industry executive, and engendered enormous respect among his peers throughout his career. From his training victories of Monarchos in the Kentucky Derby and Beautiful Pleasure in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, to his leadership as president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, John served our sport with honor and distinction. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and loved ones.”
Ward retired from training with 568 wins and 37 career black-type winners. He also won the GI Hopeful S. in 2002 with Sky Mesa, the 2002 GII Fountain of Youth S. with Booklet and the 2001 GI Acorn S. with Forest Secrets.