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Kentucky Oaks Race- A Day of Tradition and Excitement

Updated on April 8, 2013

Kentucky Oaks- A Day of Tradition and Excitement

The Kentucky Derby is known around the world as the “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” but the Kentucky Oaks Race also holds a special place in people’s heart, especially in the Bluegrass State.

While the Kentucky Derby is always on the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Oaks is always run on Friday. Originally run in 1875, this Grade 1 Stakes race is for 3 year old thoroughbred fillies and covers 1 1/8 miles. The official flower for the race is the beautiful Stargazer Lily and the winner receives a $600,000 purse and is presented with a garland of the Lilies as well as the Silver Kentucky Oaks Trophy. While the Kentucky Derby has become known as the “Run for the Roses”, the Kentucky Oaks is known as the “Lillies for the Fillies.”

Decades ago, the race became popular with locals in the area, due to smaller crowds than the Derby. However, over the years it has grown to be one of the most popular horse racing events in the United States, with over 100,000 people in attendance—both locals and visitors alike. It is the second most attended racing day in North America. Schools and most businesses in the Louisville area are closed on Oaks Day and it is considered a holiday!

Fashion plays a key role for the Kentucky Derby and the same hold true for the Kentucky Oaks race. The official color for the Oaks race is Pink, in honor of the Stargazer Lily. Pink is THE color to be in on this special day, whether it be a hat, handkerchief, sundress or suit. Men and women alike sport this pastel hue to also honor Cancer survivors. Each year, Churchill Downs reaches out to cancer survivors and invites them to be a part of a “survivor parade” to show support for their fight and to find a cure for this deadly disease. Over a hundred survivors in Pink walk the track to the roaring cheers of the crowd.

Many other traditions abound on Kentucky Oaks Day. Race goers often attend an Oaks Brunch before the race, typically featuring Mint Julep drinks, Mimosas and an assortment of Benedictine sandwiches or Country Ham and Biscuits. Locals know it is very important to eat a good meal to start the day off right before heading to the track, as it can be very difficult to get a dinner reservation after the races. can assist their guests with top-notch reservations at the city’s best restaurants—and Louisville is known for its great selections, having been recognized in many gourmet magazines as a “foodie” town.

Oaks night is also the night for the best parties! High Society, athletes, musicians and celebrities alike enjoy Southern Hospitality at over-the-top charity events such as the Barnstable Brown Party, held in a stunning mansion in a historic Louisville neighborhood. This sold-out event is one of the hardest invites to get. Long evening gowns and tuxedos sparkle under twinkly lights as guests mingle and discuss their favorite horses. Butlers roam the grounds serving cocktails and champagne…it is not unusual to see guests talking to high profile people such as Kid Rock, or the Governor of Kentucky. Many people in Kentucky consider this to be the best party of the year and out of town guests agree- this is one event worth attending. Party tickets to events such as the Barnstable Party can be almost impossible to obtain, but can get you access for a night you will never forget.

So now the secret is definitely out—come enjoy the Kentucky Oaks race as the “locals” do, and be a part of a growing tradition that culminates in a spectacular weekend of racing.


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