Kentucky Oaks History
The Kentucky Oaks was inaugurated on May 19, 1875, two days after the first running of the Kentucky Derby. The longest continuously run stakes in the United States restricted to three-year-old fillies, the Oaks has been run exclusively at Churchill Downs and is traditionally run the day before the Derby.
Patterned after the Oaks Stakes in England, the Kentucky Oaks was originally contested at 1 1/2 miles. It was reduced to 1 1/4 miles in the late 19th century, and was further reduced to 1 1/16 miles for majority of its renewals in the 20th century. However, its present distance of 1 1/8 miles has been in place since 1982.
As the Oaks has grown in stature in recent decades, the race purse has swelled to $1 million and crowds of more than 100,000 have become common, making it the most attended non-Triple Crown race in the country.
Since Vinaigrette captured the inaugural Oaks in 1875, the race has been won numerous Hall of Fame inductees. These include Princess Doreen (1925), Real Delight (1952), Cicada (1962), Dark Mirage (1968), Susan’s Girl (1972), Davona Dale (1979), Bold ‘n Determined (1980), Princess Rooney (1983), Open Mind (1989), Silverbulletday (1999), Ashado (2004), and Rachel Alexander (2009).
Rags to Riches (2007) is likely a future Hall of Fame inductee after following up her Oaks win with a historic triumph in the 2007 Belmont Stakes, making her the first filly to win the race in over a century.
Rachel Alexandra, who won the Oaks by a record margin of 20 1/4 lengths and went on to capture the Preakness later that year, is the only Kentucky Oaks winner to be named Horse of the Year. In 2016, six years after her retirement, Rachel Alexandra was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Other Oaks winners who have been divisional champion include Wistful (1949), Tiffany Lass (1986), Farda Amiga (2002), Bird Town (2003), Proud Spell (2008), Blind Luck (2010), and Untapable (2014), Abel Tasman (2017), Monomoy Girl (2018), and Malathaat (2021).
According to Churchill Downs records, pari-mutuel wagering was first offered on the Kentucky Derby in 1903, which was most likely the first year that type of wagering was offered on the Kentucky Oaks as well.
Track records indicate that the longest-priced winner of the Oaks was Lemons Forever, who took the 2006 edition under jockey Mark Guidry and paid $96.20 to win.