Kentucky Derby

The Maddens' focus is now on development, but people still pine for their famous Derby parties

Anita Madden at her home at Hamburg Farm in Lexington. Photo by Pablo Alcalá | Staff
Anita Madden at her home at Hamburg Farm in Lexington. Photo by Pablo Alcalá | Staff Lexington Herald-Leader

Madden and Hamburg Place are names that for decades were synonymous with Thoroughbreds, Kentucky Derby winners and Derby Eve parties.

Hamburg Place is the storied horse farm on Winchester Road owned by Preston and Anita Madden and started by Preston Madden's grandfather John E. Madden in 1898. The farm produced six Derby winners and five members of the racing Hall of Fame, including America's first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton, in 1919.

Starting in the 1950s — when Lexington was more staid than it is now — and for about the next 40 years, Anita Madden threw a Derby Eve party. Her party was celebrated at the time and has not been matched since, in terms of fun, say several former party regulars.

Hunky male dancers hung out in the women's restrooms and scantily clad women swung provocatively on swings suspended from the ceiling. One year streakers ran through the crowd. On another occasion, topless mermaids lingered in the swimming pool.

The atmosphere was sensual. The parties were where elegance and decadence met. Guests dined and danced into the wee hours of Derby Day.

"It wasn't an event planned by a committee and held in a hotel ballroom. It didn't have to be politically correct so as not to offend anybody," said Lexington businessman Alan Stein, who attended many of the parties. "It was Anita Madden's party, at her and Preston's farm. It had the indelible stamp of her personality. That's what made it special."

But times change.

No party lights will be shining at Hamburg Place on Friday night. Anita Madden will spend a quiet evening at home. The renowned hostess stopped holding her party in 1998.

On Derby Day, friends usually fly in to join her to watch the race on television. Preston Madden hasn't been to the Kentucky Derby since 1991, when he started going to California for a weeklong camping and horseback riding trip.

"I'll find out the Derby winner when one of my friends, Sean Washington, calls me on my cellphone after they put up the Derby results," he said recently.

These days, Hamburg is better known to most people as Hamburg Pavilion, the huge shopping center and residential area in southeast Lexington where Interstate 75 and Man o' War Boulevard meet.

"There's not a horse on Hamburg Place as we speak, just lots of memories," Preston Madden said recently.

At first there were 10

The extravagant Derby Eve parties at Hamburg Place started in 1955 as an intimate dinner party for 10 in Anita and Preston Madden's dining room.

"We did the party as a way to promote the horse business," Anita Madden said.

The party grew in popularity. Anita Madden moved the festivities to the Idle Hour Country Club briefly, then back to Hamburg Place in a large tent set up on the farm's old polo grounds.

It turned into a huge production for Madden and a group of volunteers.

"As soon as one party was over, we began planning for the next year," she said recently. "It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun."

Hand-addressed invitations were typically mailed in March. Each reservation card that was returned was stamped with the guest's table number from the previous year.

Madden personally drew up the seating chart.

"I knew most of them personally, and who wanted to sit with whom," she said.

Nearly 3,000 people attended the last few parties.

Decorations were elaborate. A 68-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower, complete with a red light on top, was built outside the tent one year. The theme was "The Fun Also Rises: An Evening With Ernest Hemingway." Guests were invited to show up as their favorite Hemingway character or in black tie.

Other themes sometimes came from her globe-trotting husband, such as "A Night on the Nile," complete with tethered camels and two sphinxes; the Inca Trail; "Gala avec Toulouse-Lautrec"; and "Land of the Midnight Sun."

Preston Madden also suggested the theme "The Diamond As Big As The Ritz," the title of one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short stories. The inspiration behind that theme: Madden's father and Fitzgerald were classmates at Princeton.

When guests walked into the tent, they were greeted by dozens of University of Kentucky sorority girls in very short skirts serving trays of champagne.

"It's what you would imagine heaven looks like," Preston Madden said. "Beautiful women and alcohol always help a party."

Jackie Royalty, a friend of the Maddens who helped work on the parties, has fond memories of those days.

"Her parties were the most fun. She threw caution to the wind," Royalty recalled.

The guest list included actresses, sports stars and prominent people in the Thoroughbred industry. Prince Albert of Monaco, son of actress Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier III of Monaco, was a regular for several years with his Philadelphia cousins.

Guests were not necessarily the biggest names in Hollywood, but they all were friends of the Maddens.

"I raced horses in California for over 50 years, at places like Del Mar, Santa Anita and Hollywood Park," Preston Madden said. "Hollywood Park was inhabited by the people on the silver screen and in television. They were very friendly.

"A lot of movie people were interested in horses; they had racing stables. We've got a whole string of friends out there."

No matter who was on the guest list, Anita Madden was always the main attraction, with her long blonde hair and eye-catching gowns often created by her friend, Las Vegas designer Suzy Creamcheese. Madden would make her appearance about 9:30 p.m., escorted for many years by television actor and perennial guest Dennis Cole.

Newspaper photographers and television cameras were set up at the door to catch her entrance.

"Everybody wanted to see what she was wearing," Royalty said. One year it was yellow satin hot pants and a long yellow feather boa.

The last partygoers didn't clear out until the wee hours. On Derby morning, the Maddens and their personal guests boarded a luxury bus and headed to Churchill Downs, stopping at a designated spot along the way for an elaborate picnic lunch complete with a live band, a staff of servers and lots of champagne.

The party became a charity benefit in the 1980s. Guests jammed the huge tent to party for the benefit of the Fayette County Heart Fund and Bluegrass Boys' Ranch, a residential facility with an academic program for disadvantaged middle-school boys.

The parties grew over the years.

"At the last party, we had 30 tents set up out there," Anita Madden said. There were tents for the caterer, for restrooms, for extra bars and for all the guests."

With a party this size, you might think it was just another charity bash, but Anita Madden said that was far from it. "People who got tickets were friends, or friends of friends," she said recently.

Now all of Madden's party dresses and lots of other favorite outfits hang in the attic of the Maddens' antebellum mansion on Winchester Road. Madden gave her last Derby Eve party in 1998. This was after her mother died and her longtime assistant, Vicki Madden, moved to Washington, D. C.

Yet when Derby Eve rolls around today, people will be pining for Madden's extravagant event.

"We still get telephone calls from people all over the place wanting tickets," she chuckled.

The impact of injuries

A few days before the start of the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games, Madden's world changed when she tripped and fell while dashing up the front staircase in the entrance hall.

"I don't quite understand how it happened, but I hurt my back," she said. "All of my ribs were either cracked or broken, and I crushed several vertebrae in my back."

She was in surgery the next morning. A second surgery followed.

A few months later, before she had fully recuperated, she went outside one night to quiet her dogs. One jumped up and knocked her down. "It was raining. I couldn't get up," she said. Madden wasn't found until about 5 a.m. when the first farm employee came to work.

Today, she is in constant pain.

"I hate to complain, but this has been my life since the accident," she said. "I like to walk and run and dance. But I know I'll never be able to do those things again."

Focus on development

Madden's health is not the only thing that has changed. The Madden family business has shifted from raising horses to developing and managing Hamburg Pavilion shopping center.

Preston and Anita Madden's only child, Patrick, has transformed the farm his great-grandfather created into a booming suburban development. It has made more money than one of history's best horse breeding, training and selling families could have made in generations.

About 1,300 of the farm's original 2,000 acres have been developed. With the exception of a few parcels, the Maddens still own the land. Businesses are there on land leases.

Anita Madden works closely with landscape architect Richard Webber, owner of Springhouse Gardens, on landscaping for the shopping center. Hamburg Place farm manager Wally Parrish oversees a crew that plants flowers, replaces declining trees and does all the mowing.

In 2005, the shopping center received a beautification award from the Lexington Environmental Commission.

Preston Madden is at his office on Sir Barton Way by 10 a.m. He reads his horse magazines and keeps up with the industry.

He is still passionate about horses and owns six Thoroughbreds in training.

He has an encylopedic knowledge of horses, especially those owned by the Madden family. He can recite equine pedigrees and racing statistics, and who owned which horse.

Throughout the house and the family's suite of offices on Sir Barton are paintings and photographs of horses that either Preston Madden has owned, or that belonged to his grandfather John E. Madden, known as the Wizard of the Turf.

In the waiting room is grandfather Madden's Thoroughbred Hall of Fame plaque. Madden began his career as an owner, trainer and driver of Standardbreds and is the only person to be in both the Thoroughbred and harness racing halls of fame.

He made a fortune buying inexpensive horses, training them, and then selling them for a big profit.

One example was Hall of Famer Hamburg. Madden bought him as a $1,200 weanling, trained him to be the champion 2-year-old of 1897, then sold him for $40,000.

Madden used the profits to buy land in Lexington and finance his successful breeding operation, which he named Hamburg Place. From 1901-03 he was America's leading trainer. In middle age, Madden shifted from training to breeding. He was America's leading breeder for 11 years and produced 182 stakes winners.

A bronze bust of Madden stands in the Hamburg Place horse cemetery on Sir Barton Way in front of Wal-Mart and Lowe's.

Preston Madden has had his share of luck breeding and racing Thoroughbreds. Pink Pigeon won the Santa Barbara Stakes in record time of 1:58:5 in March 1969. In 1974, he owned two stallions, T.V. Lark and Amber Morn, the two leading sires in North America in terms of the number of wins. T.V. Lark was number one in earnings that year.

He bred Alysheba, winner of the Derby and Preakness in 1987 and the leading money-winning equine of all time, a record he held for 10 years.

Asked if he ever found it painful to see asphalt parking lots, restaurants, movie theaters and retail stores on former pastures where horses grazed for 100 years, Preston Madden said with his usual candidness, "The stack of checks (on my desk) greatly alleviates that pain."



Night of the Phoenix

When: 8 p.m.-1 a.m.

Where: The Grand Reserve & Barrel House, 903 Manchester Street, suite 190

Tickets: $125 per person and include entertainment, food, and open premium bar.

The 41st Annual "Poor Man's Harlan County Derby Party

When: 6 p.m.

Where: The Signature Club, 3256 Lansdowne Drive

Tickets: By invitation only; $50 per person.


The Julep Ball

When: 6:30 p.m.—1:00 a.m.

Where: The KFC Yum Center, 1 Arena Plaza

Tickets: $500 a person for a full night experience; $150 for the dance.

The Grand Gala

When: 7 p.m.

Where: The Marriott-Louisville East, 1903 Embassy Square Boulevard

Tickets: Sold out

The Unbridled Eve Gala

When: 7 p.m.-1:30 a.m. (Dance-only admittance begins at 10 p.m.)

Where: The Grand Ballroom of the Galt House Hotel and Suites

Tickets: For tickets and tables email Peggy Koch or Tonya York Dees or call 502-419-6370.

The Barnstable Brown Gala

When: 8 p.m.

Where: The Barnstable Brown Mansion

Tickets: Sold out.

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