The counterpart to the Kentucky Derby (which is open to both male and female horses) is the Kentucky Oaks, a 1 1/8-mile race at Churchill Downs restricted to three-year-old fillies. It has historically been run on the first Friday of May, followed by the Derby the next day, but in 2020 will be run on the first Friday in September.
The Kentucky Oaks is rated as a Grade 1 stakes race and carries a purse of $1,250,000. Like the Derby, the Oaks was first run in 1875, and they together remain the oldest annually contested sporting events in America. They are also the oldest horse races in America to be held in the same location since their inception.
Similar to the blanket of roses that goes to the winner of the Derby, the winner of the Kentucky Oaks receives a blanket of lilies - Lilies for the Fillies.
Kentucky Oaks Picks
As one of the most popular races in the United States, the Kentucky Oaks always produces huge betting pools, and you can get in on the action and make your Kentucky Oaks picks with one of these online racebooks.
The Kentucky Oaks/Derby Double is a popular wager where the bettor must select the winner of both the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby the next day. Waiting 24 hours to find out if the wager hits is nerve-wracking but rewarding.
The payouts were $1,290.50 in 2019, just $16.60 in 2018, $146 in 2017, and $29.40 in 2016. When 50 – 1 Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby in 2005, and 4-1 Summerly had won the Oaks, the double paid $595.20.
Princess of Sylmar in 2013 was a 38-1 longshot who won the Kentucky Oaks over favorites Dreaming of Julia and Beholder; the latter would go on to win three Breeders’ Cup races. The longest shot to win in Kentucky Oaks' history was Lemons Forever in 2006; she scored at 47 – 1.
Kentucky Oaks Results
As might be expected in a race with such a long and storied history, many Kentucky Oaks winners have gone on to Hall of Fame careers and become multiple year-end champion fillies and mares. The list includes Silverbulletday, who was the Champion Two-Year-Old Filly in 1998 and Champion Three-Year-Old Filly in 1999, the year she won the Oaks.
In 2009 the winner was Rachel Alexandra, who, after her Oaks win, ran in the Preakness Stakes and beat a field of 12 males to become the first filly to win the race in 85 years. She was named Horse of the Year for 2009 over Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winning mare Zenyatta.
More recently, Untapable won the Oaks in 2014, and then took on older mares and won the 2014 Breeders' Cup Distaff, on her way to being named Champion Three-Year-Old Filly for the year.
Kentucky Oaks Racing Tips
The best prep races for the Kentucky Oaks are the Ashland Stakes (G1) and the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2).
In recent years, the Fair Grounds Oaks has become an important prep race for the Kentucky Oaks, with winners Untapable (2014) and Believe You Can (2012) both winning at Fair Grounds before shipping in for the Oaks. Equally important is the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, with Monomoy Girl (2018), Cathryn Sophia (2016), and Lovely Maria (2015) all using the Ashland as the prep for their Kentucky Oaks wins. It is important for handicappers to pay close attention to the results of those events when filling out a betting ticket for the race.
As for how they won, while none of the winners went wire-to-wire in the race, all but Princess of Sylmar were forwardly placed throughout the race and were able to pounce on the pacesetters as they made the turn into the stretch, take the lead and then ease away for the win, so it's important to consider horses that tend to break quickly from the gate and are able to establish a good stalking position early.
Untapable was the only one of the five most recent winners to go off as the favorite, while Princess of Sylmar (39-1) and Believe You Can (14-1) both won at double-digit odds.
Historically, one of the most dominant performances in the Kentucky Oaks came in 2009, when the great Rachel Alexandra took the race by a record 20 1/4, incredibly running just a quarter-second off the race record for 1 1/8 miles despite the fact she wasn't being pushed by any other horses in the race.
Silverbulletday was another popular winner, who was champion filly in the US in both her two-year-old and three-year-old season, and who also won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Her offspring have gone on to produce stars like $664,000 earner Shakin It Up and $506,000 earner Governor Charlie.
There has only ever been one winner disqualified from the Kentucky Oaks. In 1924, Glide was first under the wire but was judged by the stewards to have caused interference in the stretch drive, and the win was awarded to the second-place finisher, Princess Doreen, who would go on to have a Hall of Fame racing career.
Kentucky Oaks Contenders
Swiss Skydiver is the leading contender for the 2020 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on September 4. She is nominated to either run in the Ashland Stakes (G1) at Keeneland in July or face males in the Blue Grass Stakes (G2). She won Oaklawn Park’s Fantasy Stakes in May before taking the Santa Anita Oaks in June at Santa Anita Park. The daughter of Daredevil is trained by Ken McPeek.
<pGamine is the other top Kentucky Oaks contender who might even try the Kentucky Derby this year. Bob Baffert trains the daughter of Into Mischief, who is unbeaten in three starts and won the prestigious Acorn Stakes (G1) by 18 ¾ lengths over stakes horses Pleasant Orb and Water White.
Bonny South won the Fair Grounds Oaks over Finite, who in turn defeated British Idiom in the Rachel Alexandra Stakes (G2) in February. British Idiom was the 2019 Champion Two-Year-Old Filly after taking the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies that year. She defeated Donna Veloce on that occasion, and Donna Veloce has come back to win the Santa Ysabel Stakes (G3) in March.
Other horses to play in the Kentucky Oaks are Shedaresthedevil, Venetian Harbor, Lucrezia, Tonalist’s Shape, and Tempers Rising.
Kentucky Oaks Lineup
The Kentucky Oaks has been won by trainer Woody Stephens five times, the most of any trainer. Calumet Farm has the most wins by an owner, most recently in 1979. No jockey has won the race more than four times, with Eddie Arcaro and Manuel Ycaza sharing that title.
The Kentucky Oaks has been run at four different distances, but Bird Town holds the 1 1/8-mile record of 1:48.64.
Rosie Napravnik has made headlines by riding the winner in both 2012 and 2014. She is the first female jockey since Julie Krone to really win major races in the United States, and to win two Kentucky Oaks in three years was a huge achievement.
For all their great victories, D. Wayne Lukas has only won the Kentucky Oaks four times (most recently in 1990 with Seaside Attraction) and Bob Baffert has only won it three times (most recently with Abel Tasman in 2017). Todd Pletcher won it in 2004, 2007, and 2013, but it is Larry Jones who has done well of late, winning in 2008 with Proud Spell, 2012 with Believe You Can, and 2015 with Lovely Maria.
Kentucky Oaks Betting
Betting on the Kentucky Oaks depends on the Kentucky Oaks odds and number of horses in the race. Churchill Downs will offer wagering for win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta in the Oaks. Serengeti Empress, who won the 2019 Kentucky Oaks at 13 – 1, paid $28 to win and topped an $878.40 exacta and $3,510.90 trifecta.
Horses earn their way in by winning or placing in points races for the Kentucky Oaks. The series starts in September of their two-year-old year and includes the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies in November.
In the spring, prep races include the UAE Oaks in Dubai, the Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park, and the Gulfstream Park Oaks there as well. In 2020, because of the Kentucky Oaks being pushed back to September, new races were included on the schedule such as the Delaware Oaks in July, the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, and the Monmouth Oaks at Monmoth Park.
Post positions will be drawn for the 2020 Kentucky Oaks on Tuesday, September 1. The Oaks is scheduled to go off at 6:30 pm Eastern on Friday, September 4.