More Than One Way to Wear Roses
Ron McAnally built a Hall of Fame career training superstars like John Henry and Bayakoa and sent 10 horses to the Kentucky Derby over his 50-year career. Though fourth place is his best finish as a trainer, as co-breeder of leading contender Rock Your World, McAnally is a rarity Derby history. He follows in the footsteps of another legendary breeder/trainer - the “Wizard of the Turf,” John E. Madden.
Building an Empire
Born in Pennsylvania steel country, Madden grew up depending on his athleticism and wit to go from working in steel mills and prizefighting to building a career on the racetrack. He started with Standardbreds, buying promising young horses, developing them into winners, and then selling them at a profit. His time in the bike was prolific enough to earn him a spot in the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York. Despite his success with trotters and pacers, Madden saw the higher purses of their Thoroughbred cousins and made the transition to the gallopers, applying that same philosophy of turning young horses into champions and then selling them at a profit.
The horse that launched him to the next level was Hamburg, whom Madden purchased for $1,200 and then sold later that year for $40,001, a record price in 1897. With the profits from Hamburg’s sale, Madden purchased land that became Hamburg Place near Lexington, Kentucky, and soon built a breeding and training mecca for both Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds.
At the same time, he was an active buyer and trainer, purchasing the colt Plaudit. Under Madden’s tutelage, Plaudit would beat older horses at age two and then go on to Louisville the following year for the 1898 Kentucky Derby. With famed jockey Willie Simms in the saddle, Plaudit would mount a furious stretch drive to win the Derby by a nose. Madden would follow his Kentucky Derby victory in 1898 with a third-place finish by Mazo in the 1899 edition as well.
Madden retired from active training in 1912, fast becoming one of the country’s leading breeders. At Hamburg Place, stallions like Star Shoot and Ogden would dominate as two of the leading sires of their era, producing such notable winners as Sir Martin, Grey Lag, The Finn, and more.
In 1914, Old Rosebud, a gelding that Madden had sold for a mere $500, became the first of Hamburg Place’s Kentucky Derby winners, setting a record for 1 1/4 miles in the process. Five years later, Sir Barton would surprise everyone by winning the 1919 Kentucky Derby and then go on to make history with his subsequent victories in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, completing the first Triple Crown. Those classic winners helped cement Madden and Hamburg Place as a prolific producer of horses who could win at the highest levels.
The 1920s would yield even more success under the Twin Spires for Madden. In 1920, a Derby most famous for the horse that was not there (Man o' War) saw Paul Jones, another product of Hamburg Place, bring home the roses for owner Ral Parr. In 1923, oilman Harry Sinclair would celebrate a Kentucky Derby victory with his colt Zev, sired by The Finn and foaled at Hamburg. Finally, just two years later, Flying Ebony would notch another Derby win for Madden, making it five for his Hamburg Place. Grandson Preston Madden would add a sixth for the historic farm, breeding Alysheba, winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby.
In his three decades as a breeder of Thoroughbreds, John E. Madden raised the bar for breeders in the Kentucky Derby. His five winners is second only to Calumet Farm’s nine in the 147 years of America’s greatest race.
In a race already steeped in history many times over, 2021 has another bit of history in store for racing fans if Rock Your World brings home the roses. Like Madden, Ron McAnally had a Hall of Fame training career, conditioning Breeder’s Cup champions, Hall of Famers, and more. He also trained Candy Ride and Charm the Maker, two stakes winners that McAnally and his wife Deborah paired to produce a serious Derby contender, a horse that is ready to Rock Your World and thrust McAnally into rarefied company: a trainer of Derby contenders who then bred a winner as well.
A century ago, John E. Madden stood tall amongst names like Whitney and Hirsch, training a Derby winner and breeding five more, a Hall of Fame breeder, owner, and trainer who was a veritable “Wizard of the Turf.”
All photos by Benoit Photography.