Donna Sturgeon attended Anita Madden's last Derby Eve party 17 years ago as a VIP bouncer, clad in a short black dress and high heels. Now she is trying to bring the Derby Eve party scene back to Lexington.
Sturgeon, who is marketing director at Jack Kain Ford, came up with the idea of Derby Eve Lexington last April and called friend Cyndi Greathouse, asking, "Can we do this?"
They started calling more friends and eventually built up a committee of 18.
"Everybody said, 'Yes, we can do this. It's time,'" Sturgeon said. "Lexington needs a big glamorous Derby Eve party again. It's been too long since we've had one."
There have been numerous attempts since Madden's last bash, in 1998, to create new signature Derby Eve soirees for Lexington. But nothing has come close to rivaling such Louisville celebrations as the Barnstable-Brown Party the way Madden's affair did.
Madden's party "was the only really exciting thing, and we had it for so many years," Sturgeon said. "You would fight for tickets to that thing. It was the party to go to, and after hers ended, you had to drive to Louisville. We're horse country down here. It seems a shame not to have that glamour."
The charity fundraiser will feature live music from The Spazmatics and The Cainlands, and celebrities such as Grant Wilson, co-founder of SyFy's Ghost Hunter; comedian Mike Armstrong; Christopher Lockhart, producer and actor known for The Collector and Most Valuable Players; and the Rev. Jim Sichko, author and parish priest at St. Mark Roman Catholic Church in Richmond.
Sturgeon got Tim Bates to be the celebrity coordinator. Bates spent 20 years in L.A. trying to get into the movie industry and made a lot of friends, Sturgeon said. "He knew the right people to call and the right things to say."
Party-goers also will get the opportunity to meet breeders and trainers of Derby horses such as Dortmund and Far Right.
Meeting the planning committee members was Sturgeon's favorite part of the organizational effort. "Everyone has a specific reason they're here," Sturgeon said. She singled out Bryan Pettigrew, Breeders' Cup senior vice president. "Getting to know him has been a great experience."
General admission tickets include all food and beverages. There will be a shuttle offering rides from in front of the Cathedral of Christ the King on Cochran Road to The Polo Barn at Saxony Farm, where the party is being held.
Sturgeon said 500 to 600 party-goers are expected. The 200 VIP tickets are sold out. They provide access to a private area that offers different food and a chance to sit with the celebrities.
"Everyone meets under the dance tent," Sturgeon said.
In its first outing, the event isn't quite at the scale of the Madden party in its heyday, Sturgeon acknowledged.
"We're starting out small, but (Anita Madden) did too," said Sturgeon, who hopes that one day the party can grow to the size of Madden's 3,000 people and A-list celebrities such as Jason Priestley in his Beverly Hills 90210 prime, Ashley Judd as her star was rising and perennial guest Dennis Cole.
Sturgeon plans for Derby Eve Lexington to be "just as glitzy and glamorous" as Madden's party. "I want to go on as long as she did. I'm channeling Anita Madden's good energy."
"As a nod to Anita Madden, we will have sharp looking ladies and men," said Greg Hofelich, design chair of Derby Eve Lexington. The women will be dressed as pretty ponies, and the men will be wearing muscle shirts.
Sturgeon embraces Madden's spirit but said, "She was very outrageous, and I'm not. I'm pretty conservative."
That's a word that was never associated with the Madden party.