Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer Ward Dies at 75

Kentucky Derby Winning Trainer Ward Dies at 75

Retired classic-winning trainer former executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission John T. Ward Jr., died in Kentucky April 24. He was 75.

A native of Lexington, Ky., Ward grew up in the Thoroughbred racing business. His paternal grandfather, John Sherrill Ward, was a well-respected trainer as was his uncle, Sherrill Ward, who was named to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame for his work with three-time Horse of the Year Forego. 

Ward saddled Monarchos to victory in the 2001 Kentucky Derby (G1) in addition to a third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes (G1). The son of Maria’s Mon also captured the Florida Derby (G1) that year for Ward, who’s runners amassed $3,523,740 in 2001.

Monarchos wins the 2001 Kentucky Derby
Photo: BloodHorse Library

Monarchos wins the 2001 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs

Working with his wife, Donna, Ward trained the great mare Beautiful Pleasure, the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) and the Eclipse Award for champion older mare. The couple was honored in 2002 with the Ambassadors of Racing Award from Kentucky Thoroughbred Media.

Other notable Ward trainees include grade 1 winners Gal in a Ruckus, Sky Mesa  , Booklet, and Forest Secrets. 

Ward trained for over 40 years before finally turning in his license in 2012, sending out 574 winners from 3,671 starters with earnings of $23,879,162 in purses.

Marc Guilfoil, who succeeded Ward as executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said that he received the news of Ward’s passing late Saturday evening via text message. 

“John was a really good guy,” said Guilfoil. “He was a good executive director. I was his deputy director for four years and I’ve known him for probably 10 years. He challenged us in the office to think outside the box and come up with some very good policies and procedures that we still follow today. I guarantee you can search every history book in the country and you’ll not find another person who served at the executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission who was also a Derby winning trainer. That’s pretty special.” 

Ward was a founding member and former president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and active in the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, where he served on the Sales Integrity Task Force and helped implement the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. He also was a chairman of the Association of Racing Commissioners International and a longtime board member of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium in addition to being part of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council.


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