Traditionally held on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks is one of the biggest races of the year for fillies. With the winner getting a large garland of lilies, along with a $600,000 purse, the race is often called the “Lilies For the Fillies.” The race is is a Grade I stakes race for three-year old fillies that covers 1 ⅛ miles at Churchill Downs.
Like the Kentucky Derby is for the males, the Kentucky Oaks is considered the first leg in the “Filly Triple Crown.” The other two races that make up the second two legs are the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and Acorn Stakes. That “triple crown,” however, is not official, though there have been many proposals by owners to create a national triple crown. Currently there is just a New York Filly Triple Tiara, which includes the Acorn Stakes, the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Alabama Stakes.
The Kentucky Oaks is one of the most highly attended horse races in the country, bringing in over 100,000 spectators each year. The Kentucky Oaks has recently been the third most attended horse race each year, surpassing the attendance of the Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup. The only two races to outdraw the Kentucky Oaks in attendance are the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The high attendance for the Kentucky Oaks has been a recent trend since the start of the 2000’s. Since 2001, the race has drawn at least 100,000 each year.
The distance for the race has been changed multiple times, but has been set at 1 ⅛ miles since 1982. Starting with its first running in 1875 through 1890, the race was 1 ½ miles. The race has also been run at 1 ¼ miles and 1 1/16 miles during its existence.
In 2009 Rachel Alexandra won the Kentucky Oaks by the largest margin in its history, by 20 ¼ lengths. Rachel Alexandra then went on to win the Preakness Stakes in 2009, the first filly to do so in 85 years.
Jockey Rosie Napravnik became the first female jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks in 2012 while riding Believe You Can. She repeated that feat in 2014 when she won riding Untapable.
Many still consider the Kentucky Oaks to be a local event, even as the number of out-of-state visitors continues to increase each year. Louisvillians and others from the Ohio Valley typically make up most of the infield crowd during the race each year, where there is music, games, food and alcohol.