03/19/2012 10:39AM

Kentucky ethics panel says Ward's wife can train, but not race in Kentucky


FRANKFORT, Ky. – The Kentucky executive branch ethics commission approved an advisory opinion Monday morning stating that the wife of John T. Ward Jr. can continue to train horses in Kentucky but should not race horses in the state so as to avoid a conflict of interest with her husband, the Kentucky Derby-winning trainer who last month was named executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

Ward appeared before the five-person commission for about 20 minutes to determine how he and his wife, Donna, can proceed when he assumes his new duties April 1. John Ward, 66, has trained a racing stable since the mid-1960s, and Donna has been an integral part of the operation. John Ward already has stated he will surrender his trainer’s license when moving into his new position.

John Steffen, an attorney who serves as executive director of the ethics commission, wrote in an eight-page advisory that any conflict of interest, or any appearance of the same, should be strictly avoided in any horse-related business conducted by the Wards, who also have a breeding and boarding operation at their Sugar Grove Farm in Paris, Ky., near Lexington. The opinion essentially states that Donna can continue to live and train horses in Kentucky, but that she should not do so at a KHRC-sanctioned facility and that she should race the horses elsewhere.

In years past, the Wards have raced horses at Saratoga in the summer and at Gulfstream Park in the winter while racing at Kentucky tracks during other parts of the year. John Ward said in a separate interview that Donna will continue to train horses at their Paris farm and that she probably will seek a trainer’s license when needed in other states.

John Ward was accompanied to the Monday meeting by two representatives of the KHRC. He told the ethics commission that he was “thrilled to move into this position” and that he believes he “can do more for the industry in this chair than being on the fringes.” He further added that he sought “total transparency” in his new position.

Ward requested the meeting when writing a letter earlier this month to the ethics commission seeking to clarify the issues of conflict of interest. The issue is somewhat moot in that the Wards have not been overly active in recent years. Since winning the Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs on Oct. 31, 2010, with the filly Dancinginherdreams, the stable has won just two races from 26 starters while significantly reducing its numbers. Ward has won one race with three starters in 2012.

Ward is best known for winning the 2001 Kentucky Derby with Monarchos. His other major triumphs include Gal In a Ruckus in the 1995 Kentucky Oaks and Beautiful Pleasure in the 1999 Breeders’ Cup Distaff.

As executive director of the racing commission, Ward will succeed Lisa Underwood, who resigned in November to return to private law practice.