Ward, Horse Trainer
Riding His UK Experience to the Winners Circle.
John T. Ward,
Jr., 68, trainer of the 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos,
was offering his horses a free trip to Florida. Lots of sun, some
racing, all the feed you could want, just 17 hours away from the
gray skies, dull grass, and bare trees of a Kentucky winter.
But Heros Tribute, one of Wards top contenders for
the 2002 racing season, was hesitating. The horse made a few steps
toward the van that was to take him south, then stopped. Ward
grasped the horses bit and pulled him down to talk in a
language that only horse and trainer know. Heros Tribute
must have heard, because then he started moving toward the horse
van, Florida, and maybe glory.
to know what it is to postpone a new chapter. He did it himself
about 35 years ago, when it was time to enroll as a freshman at
I took a semester off before I began. I was riding, showing
hunters and jumpers, Ward said.
He showed horses at Madison Square Garden, among other places,
continuing an education in horses that began practically at birth
or, if you factor in heredity, before. Wards grandfather,
John S. Ward, was a horse trainer, as was his father John T. Ward,
Sr. His Uncle Sherrill and family friend Woody Stephens were both
trainers, and both were elected to the Racing Hall of Fame.
Though horses beat out books that first semester, spring semester
did finally arrive. Time to enroll. Ag was where I fit in,
because I had diverse interests, Ward said. He also pledged,
and later became an officer in, Delta Tau Delta. The fraternity
and other parts of UK life gave him, he said, long-term
friendships, bonds, that endure the test of time.
He already had some friendships among the ag professors. UK
had an Equine Department at that time. One of the Equine Departments
professors, Kob Ryen, taught me to ride when I was 6 years old,
At UK, Ward also found other professors who looked at what he
already knew. Then they looked at what he wanted to do when he
graduated. And they bent.
I was allowed some freedoms to keep my participation [riding
and showing horses] up, Ward said. He found the right advisor
in Jimmy Criswell, who taught ag economics. Criswell, he said,
was very structured but understood that the educational
foundation Ward already had was one not to be found in any curriculum.
Ward said Criswell told him: You take things you think will
help you in later life, and at the end of your junior year well
see what kind of major we can come up with.
So, Ward took
sciences. He took genetics. He took ag economics, which in the
end became his major. The Ag Economics Department, he said, taught
me how to be totally practical, to learn how to apply my knowledge
to the business scenario and be able to survive.
If Ward were
going to put it in non-romantic terms, he would probably say that
one of the smartest things he did, just a few years out of school,
was to marry Donna Clancy.
Ward 64 UK alumna, described by her husband as a city girl
with a raw love for horses, started to ride only when
she got to UK. She signed up for a riding program taught by Wards
childhood riding instructor, Kob Ryen. When she had a date
in college he would ask her what she wanted to do. She said she
wanted to go out and ride horses, her husband said. Some
of those boyfriends got broken bones, but Donna Ward just got
better at riding.
The Wards are business partners, and both are trainers. Their
notable wins include the 1995 Kentucky Oaks, the equivalent of
the Kentucky Derby for fillies, with Gal in a Ruckus, and the
Breeders Cup Distaff, with Beautiful Pleasure, who was trained
by Donna Ward.
may have been the Derby winner that Ward trained, but he is not
the only one Ward spotted. In 1999, Ward advised Japanese businessman
Fusao Sekiguchi to buy a particular yearling at Keenelands
July sale. The understanding was that the horse would be trained
by someone on the West Coast, which Sekiguchi could reach more
easily from Japan. Sekiguchi paid $4 million for the horse that
was to become Fusaichi Pegasus, winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby.
When Fusaichi Pegasus came to the finish line, Ward said his wife
immediately headed for the Winners Circle. Someone asked
her why, since the Wards had not been involved in Fusaichi Pegasus
Were going to practice! said Donna Ward, the
prophet, whose words bore fruit on a sunny Derby day in May 2001.
a steel-gray Thoroughbred owned by Tulsa businessman John Oxley
and his wife, Debby, had been purchased as a 2-year-old for $170,000
at a sale in Florida sponsored by Thoroughbred auction firm Fasig-Tipton.
Monarchos was unique, Ward said, because he didnt run in
a race until 2001 began. And then he won the Florida Derby. As
the Kentucky Derby neared, the media made much of what has been
called an unorthodox training method: Ward didnt
put the horse through full workouts, as was expected. Few knew
what to make of it.
But the Wards
knew, and the story is now legend. Monarchos, ridden by jockey
Jorge Chavez, started at the 16th post and was in 13th position
for the first half-mile of the race. But then he began to surge
forward. With a fraction of a mile left, Monarchos took the lead,
and finally, won the race with an astounding time: one minute,
59 and 4/5 seconds, just 2/5 of a second off the record set by
Secretariat in 1973.
he didnt put Monarchos through the traditional pre-race
workouts because he has a very good understanding of a horses
physical and mental makeup and knew what would work for
Last year proved to everybody you dont have to force
a horse into a grand early performance, Ward said.
Monarchos went on to the remaining races in the Triple Crown to
finish sixth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes.
Ward now calls taking that journey the most unbelievable
roller coaster of your life. You are on an absolute high when
you win [the Derby]. Youre going as the defending champion
when you go to the Preakness, so theres all the pressure
and all the attention of the world on you. In this instance, it
didnt go according to plan. But then, when you go to the
Belmont, you hit this low because you didnt win [the Preakness].
Youre trying to redeem yourself in the Belmont, which we
did to an extent.
the Derby as a native Kentuckian still makes him euphoric and
emotional, and it has brought him untold rewards, like meeting
a couple who came up to him in the Fort Lauderdale airport. Hows
Monarchos? they said. We bet on him. He has
also discovered how widespread the UK alumni network is.
Its become increasingly evident to me, after winning
the Derby, youll find UK graduates as Ashland, Inc. executives,
IBM executives, at the head of dot-com businesses, he said.
Youll find UK graduates all over the world.
He also found out UK had prepared him for the newfound fame that
came with a Derby win.
UK does a wonderful job of not only preparing a person academically,
but also preparing them to meet the public, he said.
now a new racing season. As for Derby contenders, its
a little early to tell, said Ward in an interview late last
year. But he is confident enough about the months ahead that he
provides some names from his stable worth remembering: Heros
Tribute. The fillies Forest Secret and Snow Dance. Well
have strong representation in just about every older horse division,
year holds, the Wards are likely to keep their eyes focused on
what is best for the horse rather than on the prize. As
long as you grasp that, then if it doesnt work and you get
beat, so be it, Ward said.
Last year, of course, it worked perfectly. This year, as the turf
warms, the grass turns blue again, and horses come home to Kentucky,
John Ward may have more perfect endings ahead.
Continuing the College Connection
connection with UK continues. Now working for them is Patrick
Gallagher, a Ph.D. graduate in veterinary sciences. Gallagher,
a member of the class of 2002, finished his course work in August.
A Wisconsin native, Gallagher grew up with horses. His specialty
is horse genetics, but Ward is teaching him how to train horses.
is a business that is passed down, said Ward. He and his
wife have no children, and Ward has made attempts in the past
to take on a kind of journeyman, as he calls it, to
pass on the knowledge he has acquired in his decades in the business.
past, I would ask people how long they thought it would take them
to learn to train a horse, Ward said. The answers he got
were something like about two years.
He asked Gallagher the same question.
About 15 years, Gallagher said.
also proud of Gallaghers work ethic: Hes here
at 4:30 a.m., seven days a week, Ward said.
Ward said that those horse trainers with a college education are
the most successful.
I knew by [Gallaghers] going through the UK doctoral
process that he was exposed to a tremendous amount of knowledge
that would help him grasp some of the most basic things about
our business, he said.
A higher education completed in horse-driven Lexington was another
asset for Ward, giving Gallagher an understanding of the business
he would not get in another doctoral veterinary program.