Anita Madden honored as trailblazing businesswoman

Anita Madden, shown here with her husband, Preston Madden, at the Junior League Horse Show Gala at Elmendorf Farm in 2006, became active in the horse industry after their 1955 marriage.
Anita Madden, shown here with her husband, Preston Madden, at the Junior League Horse Show Gala at Elmendorf Farm in 2006, became active in the horse industry after their 1955 marriage. LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Most people probably know Lexington horsewoman Anita Madden for her legendary Derby Eve parties, but her long career has included pioneering work in the Thoroughbred business and social-justice issues.

The Ohio River Valley Women's Business Council will honor Madden with their inaugural Woman of the Year Trailblazer Award for her work in the horse industry and with charities.

Madden will receive the award at the group's keynote luncheon Tuesday at the Galt House in Louisville, during the organization's annual regional conference.

"That's pretty amazing," Madden said of the honor.

The three-state women's business group is honoring Madden because "her ground-breaking work for the many non-profit organizations and her work in securing the rights of women have set a standard for all women in Kentucky," said Marjorie Solomon, director of the group.

Asked what she considers her biggest accomplishment, Madden said: "I think staying married for 55 years."

Her marriage in 1955 to Preston Madden is what brought her into the world of big-time Thoroughbred breeding and racing.

"One of his goals was to breed a Kentucky Derby winner, and I was so pleased he did accomplish that," she said.

Hamburg Place, the Madden family farm bought in 1898, had already produced several Derby and Belmont Stakes winners and Triple Crown winner Sir Barton. But with Anita's help, Preston would breed one of the most famous: Alysheba, who won the 1987 Derby and Preakness, before standing at stud at Lane's End Farm and later in Saudi Arabia.

Anita Madden said that she and Preston still have a few horses in training but no broodmares at the moment.

In 1977, Anita Madden was appointed by Lexington Mayor Foster Pettit to the Fayette County Planning and Zoning Commission, on which she served for 17 years. During this time, she formed the plan to develop Hamburg into the housing and retail development it is today. Ground was broken for the Hamburg Pavilion shopping center in 1995.

Madden also was one of the first women ever to serve as a racing regulator. She was appointed by Gov. John Y. Brown to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and served from 1980 to '83.

But many people in the Bluegrass are most familiar with Madden through her Derby Eve parties, which began shortly after she and Preston married.

"The first few years, it was more involved with just the horse business," Madden said. But the party kept getting bigger every year, and people were always asking to bring extra guests.

She hit upon the idea of making it a charity ball for the Bluegrass Boys Ranch and opened the party up to anyone who paid to attend. "People loved that. They could bring as many as they wanted," Madden said.

And the lavish parties were fabulous, with themes such as "Rapture of the Deep," complete with mermen and mermaids, or "Ultimate Odyssey," with young people dressed as Greek gods and goddesses.

Madden invited the famous and the infamous, from Burt Bacharach to Kato Kaelin, and drew huge crowds. Over 40 years of parties she raised millions for the Boys Ranch and other charities.

Her last party was in 1998. "I miss it. I don't miss all the work but I do miss the party and all the interesting people," she said.

Solomon said, "For 40 years, Madden has been an influential leader and contributor to Kentucky businesses and non-profit organizations. She has dedicated her energies to helping others, stood up for the rights of women and minorities, and unselfishly given of her time and talents to make Lexington and all of Kentucky a warmer, richer and more accepting place."

"From her lavish pre-Derby parties that raised millions of dollars for the Bluegrass Boy's Ranch, to her commitment to Just Fund Kentucky that advocates awareness for social justice in Kentucky for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens, to her involvement in politics, Madden has been changing the lives of people throughout Kentucky."

Madden was modest about her roles.

"I am thrilled to be named as the Trailblazing Award recipient," she said. "But actually, all these organizations are doing such marvelous, life-changing work, that I was more than willing to help out in any way I could."