As the Derby’s companion race for 3-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks has always been about the “ladies.” However, over the past 138 years since the first running on May 19, 1875, at the Louisville Jockey Club (former name of Churchill Downs), a few tweaks have been made here and there. For example, the original distance of 1-1/2 miles has been adjusted several times to today’s shorter length of 1-1/8 miles. And, the first Oaks race ran two days after the Kentucky Derby. Today, however, the "Ladies First" theme is both literal and figurative.
In recent years, new Oaks traditions have emerged. For starters, in 1991, the stargazer lily was selected as the official flower of the Kentucky Oaks for its symbol of femininity and strength. Then, in 2006, in honor of the official flower, the race got its own signature drink, the Oaks Lily. As the Kentucky Oaks began to grow in popularity (attendance has doubled since 2001 to over 100,000 today), the day has blossomed into one of the most popular racing events in the United States.
From the fillies, lilies, drinks, and signature color pink, the Oaks is all about the ladies. Even better, it’s a party with a purpose. Prior to the race, be sure to turn your eyes to the main track for a moving sight as 139 breast cancer survivors' walk in the Survivors’ Parade. Also, Churchill Downs will donate $1 from each Oaks Lily sold to Horses and Hope. In 2008, First Lady Jane Beshear founded Horses and Hope with the Kentucky Cancer Program (KCP) to provide breast cancer education, screening and treatment referral for the often overlooked members of Kentucky's horse industry and their families.
Whether you’re going to Churchill or tuning in to watch the spectacular show of pink on television, today is the day to celebrate the special ladies in your life. Although you will not find me among the masses this year, I will bring the flavor and traditions of the day into my home as I casually entertain a few friends.
First, you can't go wrong with stargazer lilies. They're fragrant and stunning. I like to mix them with white hydrangeas and simple greenery for a bright pop of hot pink.
Even though we won't be at Churchill, my guests and I will still get to enjoy the signature drink of the day, the Oaks Lily. This pretty and refreshing cocktail is super easy to make and can be enjoyed throughout the year.
1 oz. Grey Goose® Vodka
1 oz. Sweet and Sour Mix
3 oz. Cranberry Juice
Splash of Triple Sec
Once the ingredients are mixed, place in a glass with ice, and garnish with an orange wedge and a cherry (I added a lime wedge).
If you’re celebrating this year’s festivities away from Churchill, please consider sending a donation to Horses and Hope. Tax deductible donations should be made to:
501 E. Broadway,
Finally, let's talk about the horses. The fillies today are every bit the match of the boys tomorrow. With three undefeated horses, and a favorite (though twice defeated), Dreaming of Julia, having a "speed figure" (114) that is waaaay above the best any of the boys have ever run (105). For the not-so-serious gamblers, I like to write the names of each filly on a piece of paper for easy entertainment. Guests pay a small amount to play and the winner takes all.
Now, if I were a betting woman...I'd have a hard time looking past the morning-line (and deserving) favorite, Dreaming of Julia, and co-second-choice, Unlimited Budget, but an equally hard time betting on them at short odds given the top-to-bottom quality of this field (how many undefeated fillies can be in a race, anyway?). Under the circumstances, I'd have to try to make my money in a trifecta by wheeling those two in first and second, with the field in third and hope that a live longshot like Pure Fun rounds out the top three. I might also back this up with an exacta box of those two, Pure Fun, Beholder and Midnight Lucky. (And, I'm still rooting for Rosie on Seaneen Girl.) But, like I said, that would only be the case if I were a betting woman...
Who are your favorites for the 139th running of the Kentucky Oaks?