Gov. Steve Beshear appointed Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John T. Ward as executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission effective April 1.
The move will put an advocate of tougher medication policies in charge of day-to-day operations of the state regulatory body for racing.
Ward, with his wife, Donna, operates John T. Ward Stables in Paris and trained 2001 Derby winner Monarchos. He will surrender his trainer's license once he takes office; his wife, who exercised the horses, will take over training of the stable, which includes 4-year-old filly Dancing in Her Dreams.
"John Ward brings to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission years of experience as a trainer and horseman, and his understanding of the needs of our struggling horse industry makes him an excellent choice to oversee the development and regulation of racing and breeding in Kentucky," Beshear said in announcing the appointment Monday.
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Ward, 66, is a member of the racing commission, but he will resign his seat and Beshear will appoint a replacement.
"It's a hot seat," Ward said Monday in an interview.
He wants to work on increasing live-racing handle and maintaining a consistent racing circuit, he said.
"There's no doubt we've got a struggling industry in the state. There are a lot more issues that need to be dealt with in a timely manner," Ward said. "We've got to make people feel very comfortable racing in Kentucky, to feel it's going to be very fair and hospitable."
He said he did not see any conflict in taking the non-voting post because he would not race horses in his name in Kentucky. If a conflict arises, he said, "we can readjust."
Ward said he would bring better understanding to the board because of his on-track contact and history.
"We want the strongest, most experienced people helping in our business," he said.
Besides Monarchos, Ward trained 1995 Kentucky Oaks winner Gal in a Ruckus, 1999 Breeders' Cup Distaff winner Beautiful Pleasure and Grade 1 winners Sky Mesa, Booklet and Forest Secrets. He also advised Fusao Sekiguchi on the $4 million purchase of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus as a yearling. He also briefly was chief operating officer of Calumet Farm before it was sold in the early 1990s
Ward is a founding member of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association/Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, through which he helped implement the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund that augments purses for state-bred horses.
Ward has served on the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council and the TOBA Sales Integrity Task Force.
He is on the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which has lobbied nationally for uniform drug policies for racehorses.
Although Ward said Monday he supports a ban on race-day medication, he conceded that doing away with the anti-bleeder medication Lasix is impractical right now.
"I'm always in favor of the level playing field. 'Let the best horse win.' But there is some science on the other side," Ward said. "We need to do something to protect our horses."
Last week the American Graded Stakes Committee, an industry group that grades top races, announced it would not implement an anticipated ban on the use of Lasix in 2-year-old races.
Ward succeeds Lisa Underwood, who left to return to private law practice in November. She served in the position for five years.
Shortly after her departure, the state fired chief steward John Veitch over the handling of an incident involving Life At Ten in the Breeders' Cup. The state has not named a permanent replacement for Veitch. Underwood served in the position for five years.
Ward said he was moved to take the more public role "to give back to racing."
Racing commission chairman Robert Beck, who conducted interviews along with vice chairman Tracy Farmer and Public Protection Cabinet Secretary Bob Vance, said Ward was the top choice.
"John has an impeccable reputation not only in Kentucky but throughout Thoroughbred racing across the country," Beck said. "I believe Kentucky is fortunate to have his knowledge and skills to lead us as we continue to look toward the re-emergence of one of Kentucky's signature industries as the world leader in breeding and racing."
Ward is a third-generation Thoroughbred trainer; his uncle Sherrill Ward trained the legendary Forego.