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Kentucky Oaks in the United States

The Kentucky Oaks is an annual horse race for three-year-old Thoroughbred fillies, which are female horses. It is held in Louisville, Kentucky, on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby.

©iStockphoto.com/LeeTorrens

The Grade 1 Stakes race has been held on the Churchill Downs racetrack since 1875. It is the fourth most attended horse race in North America, after the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

Is Kentucky Oaks Day a Public Holiday?

The Kentucky Oaks is always held on the first Friday of May, which is a working day in the United States. Many businesses and schools in the Louisville region, however, close down to celebrate the event, which is a mainstay of the local culture. Some roads are closed and traffic is often rerouted to accommodate race spectators.

How Is Kentucky Oaks Celebrated?

The Kentucky Oaks is often seen as the pre-party event for the Kentucky Derby. Like the Derby, it is celebrated by well-dressed spectators sipping mint juleps, a drink made of mint, sugar syrup, and bourbon. In 2006, a new cocktail, the Finlandia Oaks Lily, was designated the official drink of the event.

Lilies for the Fillies

The lily is the official flower of the race, and the winner is presented with a blanket of lilies called Lilies for the Fillies.

Survivors' Parade

Since 2008, survivors of breast and ovarian cancers, who have been nominated by their friends and family, walk down the racetrack before the race to raise awareness and money for cancer research and outreach. The parade has been sponsored by Kroger, a supermarket chain.

What Is the Kentucky Oaks?

The Kentucky Oaks is a competitive race for three-year-old Thoroughbred fillies. Along with the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and the Acorn Stakes, it is considered a counterpart of the Triple Crown.

Up to 18 fillies can compete for the one million dollars total prize pot on a 1.8 km (1.12 miles) dirt track while carrying 55 kg (121lb).

To qualify, the fillies have to compete in 30 races around the world.

History of the Kentucky Oaks

First run in 1875, the race was started by Meriwether Lewis Clark, grandchild of William Clark of the famed Lewis and Clark duo. Inspired by the horse races he saw on his trips to Europe, Meriwether decided to establish an annual horse racing competition with the help of the Louisville Jockey Club. The land for the now iconic Churchill Downs was donated by Clark's uncles John and Henry Churchill.

Along with the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks is the oldest continuously run sports event in the US. They are also the only two horse races that take place in the same location as their inaugural event.

Kentucky Oaks Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday Type
2015FriMay 1Kentucky OaksSporting event
2016FriMay 6Kentucky OaksSporting event
2017FriMay 5Kentucky OaksSporting event
2018FriMay 4Kentucky OaksSporting event
2019FriMay 3Kentucky OaksSporting event
2020FriMay 1Kentucky OaksSporting event
2021FriApr 30Kentucky OaksSporting event
2022FriMay 6Kentucky OaksSporting event
2023FriMay 5Kentucky OaksSporting event
2024FriMay 3Kentucky OaksSporting event
2025FriMay 2Kentucky OaksSporting event

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