The Kentucky Derby has a well-deserved reputation as one of the premier horse races in the world, but its sister race, the Kentucky Oaks, is not to be overlooked. Held for 3-year-old fillies, the Kentucky Oaks is also run at Churchill Downs. Its distance is a mile and an eighth (nine furlongs), and the event is usually held on the first Friday in May, the day before the Kentucky Derby.
This year’s Kentucky Oaks, however, was postponed several months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The race will be run on Friday, Sept. 4, and it will award a purse of $1.25 million to the top finishers and their connections. Instead of roses, which are awarded to the winner of the Kentucky Derby, the winner of the Kentucky Oaks will earn a garland of lilies known as “Lilies for the Fillies.”
There’s plenty to digest when it comes to the Oaks, including its history, where and how to bet on the race, and how to determine whom the contenders for the lilies will be when the field goes to the Churchill Downs starting gate. Let’s take a closer look at the Kentucky Oaks, and some of the latest tips and predictions for the race.
If you’re in Kentucky this September, you may be able to visit Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day. Churchill Downs has announced plans to open the facility to a capped number of spectators, and if those plans are not changed, it means the Oaks and Derby Day cards may be two of the first in the country to run with significant crowds since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Assuming the plans remain intact, Churchill Downs will have plenty of wagering windows open, and tellers and machines will be ready to take your bets on the first Friday in September. If you can’t make it to Louisville, though, there are plenty of other ways to put your money down on your favorite 3-year-old filly.
Online wagering, or advance-deposit wagering, is legal in 43 of 50 states. Unless you live in Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina or Utah, you can bet on the Kentucky Oaks through your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
There are many advance-deposit wagering platforms out there competing for your wagering dollars. Some of the most well-known sites are TVG, which also runs a pair of horse racing television networks, and TwinSpires, which is owned by Churchill Downs.
There are many different ways to play the Kentucky Oaks, and with the large field that will be signed on, there are plenty of different directions betting money can go. This means that the odds on the horse and wager you prefer will likely be pretty generous compared to other races with smaller groups of horses and less money in the pools.
If you’re just starting out, or if you only like one horse in the race, your best bets may be win, place or show wagers. Win bets pay out if your horse wins (naturally), place bets pay out if your horse runs first or second, and show bets pay out if your horse runs first, second or third.
Win odds are what are shown on the tote board leading up to a race. If your horse is 4-1, it means you’ll win $4 for every dollar you wager. A successful $2 win bet, for instance, will return $10 (your original $2 bet, plus an $8 profit). Place and show pools are also able to be viewed before the race, so you’ll be able to see how much money is in those pools and how much you could potentially stand to win on those wagers.
If you like multiple horses, bets known as exotics may tickle your fancy as well. Payoffs for exactas (picking the top two finishers), trifectas (picking the top three finishers) and superfectas (picking the top four finishers) can be sizable if longshots run well.
For reference, the 2019 Kentucky Oaks was won by Serengeti Empress, who went off at odds of 13-1. Longshots Liora (38-1) and Lady Apple (10-1) ran second and third, while 9-5 favorite Bellafina was well-beaten. Because of this outcome, the $2 exacta paid $878.40, the 50-cent trifecta paid $3,510.90, and the 10-cent superfecta paid $67,087.40.
Exotics tickets can be constructed in many ways. For example, if you like three horses and want to play exactas, you can play an exacta box and buy all combinations of those runners. This would be a total of six bets (for six combinations), and would cost $6 – a dollar per combination.
You can also “key” horses in certain spots on those tickets, which is a popular practice in superfectas that can be played for 10-cent combinations. If you like a horse to win, and think five other horses could run second, third or fourth, you can key your top pick in the first position and use the other runners underneath. This structure produces 60 combinations, and at a 10-cent minimum, you can punch your ticket for just $6.
Finally, like other races at tracks around the world, you can play the Kentucky Oaks as part of “horizontal,” or multi-race, exotics wagers as well. These include doubles (winners of two races in a row), as well as Pick Threes, Pick Fours, Pick Fives and the Pick Six. These sequences can provide plenty of value, especially if you particularly like another horse in a race either immediately before or immediately after the Oaks.
As many horses tend to do, several 3-year-old fillies have taken big leaps forward from age 2 to age 3. In fact, the horse pegged by many as the one to beat in the Oaks didn’t even run as a 2-year-old, and has burst onto the scene with several dominant performances to this point in her short career.
That’s Gamine, who was most recently seen smashing a field of fellow sophomore distaffers in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park. The daughter of top sire Into Mischief won by nearly 19 lengths and stopped the timer in an impressive 1:32.55 for the one-mile distance. By comparison, Met Mile winner Vekoma negotiated the distance in 1:32.88, about a length and a half slower than his younger female counterpart.
There are plenty of other contenders, thanks to this crop of 3-year-old fillies containing several excellent prospects. Swiss Skydiver, for instance, reeled off wins in three straight graded stakes races earlier this season, and trainer Ken McPeek saw fit to tackle the boys in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland in July.
She was far from disgraced in defeat that day, as she ran a very good second behind top Kentucky Derby contender Art Collector and beat the rest of the field by nearly five lengths after setting a solid early pace. She’s listed as the 4-1 second choice in the Kentucky Oaks betting, and if Gamine misfires at Churchill Downs, Swiss Skydiver could stand to benefit the most.
Because the Kentucky Oaks is being run four months later than usual, horses can even emerge as contenders during the summer months. This is the case with Paris Lights, who ran her winning streak to three with a narrow score in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. She topped Crystal Ball by a head after a thrilling stretch duel, and all three of her wins have come going two-turn routes of ground. She’s also won twice over the dirt track at Churchill Downs.
Those wins beneath the twin spires came by a combined margin of approximately 10 lengths, and she could stand a legitimate chance at giving Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first Kentucky Oaks victory.
Another possible contender could be a filly who may go into the Kentucky Oaks off of a six-month layoff. That’s Donna Veloce, who ran second to divisional champ British Idiom in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita. She went to the sidelines after winning the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel in California, and trainer Simon Callaghan has said he may simply train the daughter of Uncle Mo up to the big race.
It’s an unconventional approach, to be sure, but at her best, she’s shown as a force to be reckoned with.
Churchill Downs traditionally offers one round of future wagering on the Kentucky Oaks, where horse players can get early bets down on their top Kentucky Oaks picks. This year’s future wagering worked a bit differently due to the coronavirus pandemic, as Churchill offered a second pool in July (in addition to the scheduled offering in March) to take advantage of the extra time leading up to the race.
In keeping with her status as the Oaks favorite, Gamine closed as a 2-1 choice in Pool 2 of future wagering, which was closed on July 19. Swiss Skydiver, the 9-2 second choice, was the only other betting interest to close at single-digit Kentucky oaks odds. Speech (10-1), Donna Veloce (14-1) and Paris Lights (14-1) also received attention at the windows.
Pool 1 of future wagering was conducted before the coronavirus pandemic forced a rescheduling of Churchill Downs’ two biggest races. In a common occurrence in early future pools, “all other horses” wound up the favored betting interest and settled at 3-1 when the pool closed on March 8.
Venetian Harbor, who has since gone on to run second in the Fantasy Stakes and Ashland, was the 4-1 second choice. Gamine was not a listed option in this pool, so she would be covered by those who bet “all other horses,” and the 3-1 price is actually a slight improvement over her Pool 2 odds.
Interestingly, if you backed Swiss Skydiver in this pool, you got the far better price of 167-1, as this pool closed before she put forth several of her higher-profile efforts.
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|Travers Stakes||Stars and Stripes Stakes||Dubai World Cup|
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Since its first running in 1875, the Kentucky Oaks has hosted some of the top 3-year-old fillies in training. As a result, its winners’ list is dotted with champions, Hall of Famers, and horses with terrific backstories leading up to their triumphs beneath the twin spires.
The Oaks earned Grade 1 status in 1978, and one year later, the race drew an all-time great. Davona Dale’s march to racing immortality featured a run of eight consecutive stakes victories, and the spree of impressive wins included the 1979 Kentucky Oaks. She won that year’s Eclipse Award for her division, and she was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
In addition to the usual band of celebrities and public figures, the 1991 Kentucky Oaks was graced by a prominent celebrity owner. Earlier in her 3-year-old season, the filly Lite Light was purchased by rap superstar MC Hammer and his family, whose enterprise went by the name Oaktown Stable.
After winning the Santa Anita Oaks and the Fantasy Stakes, Lite Light was sent to Churchill Downs, where she won the Oaks by 10 lengths as the odds-on favorite and prompted legendary announcer Tom Durkin to utter the phrase “you can’t touch this!” on the national broadcast immediately following the race.
More recently, one of the most dominant efforts in Kentucky Oaks history came in 2009, when Rachel Alexandra was heavily favored to take home the lilies. She didn’t just beat her rivals that day. The Hal Wiggins trainee destroyed them, winning by more than 20 lengths, which set a record for the biggest margin of victory in Kentucky Oaks history.
Shortly after that performance, she was privately purchased and transferred to the barn of trainer Steve Asmussen, who campaigned her to Horse of the Year honors that season and ultimately to a spot in racing’s Hall of Fame.
Fittingly, one of the sport’s biggest races regularly attracts some of its most well-known human participants as well. Hall of Fame jockeys Eddie Arcaro and Manny Ycaza won the Oaks four times apiece, while legendary horseman Woody Stephens conditioned five Oaks winners to lead all trainers.
|2019||Serengeti Empress||Tom Amoss||1:50.17|
|2018||Monomoy Girl||Brad Cox||1:49.13|
|2017||Abel Tasman||Bob Baffert||1:51.62|
|2016||Cathryn Sophia||John C. Servis||1:50.53|
|2014||Lovely Maria||J. Larry Jones||1:50.45|
|2014||Untapable||Steven M. Asmussen||1:48.68|
|2013||Princess of Sylmar||Todd A. Pletcher||1:49.17|
|2012||Believe You Can||J. Larry Jones||1:49.50|
|2011||Plum Pretty||Bob Baffert||1:49.50|
|2010||Blind Luck||Jerry Hollendorfer||1:50.70|
|2009||Rachel Alexandra||Hal R. Wiggins||1:48.87|
|2008||Proud Spell||J. Larry Jones||1:50.01|
|2007||Rags to Riches||Todd A. Pletcher||1:49.99|
|2006||Lemons Forever||Dallas Stewart||1:50.07|
|2005||Summerly||Steven M. Asmussen||1:50.23|
|2004||Ashado||Todd A. Pletcher||1:50.81|
|2003||Bird Town||Nicholas P. Zito||1:48.64|
|2002||Farda Amiga||Paulo H. Lobo||1:50.41|
|2001||Flute||Robert J. Frankel||1:48.85|
|2000||Secret Status||Neil J. Howard||1:50.30|
|1998||Keeper Hill||Robert J. Frankel||1:52.06|
|1997||Blushing K. D.||Sam B. David, Jr.||1:50.29|
|1996||Pike Place Dancer||Jerry Hollendorfer||1:49.88|
|1995||Gal in a Ruckus||John T. Ward, Jr.||1:50.09|
|1994||Sardula||Brian A. Mayberry||1:51.16|
|1993||Dispute||Claude R. McGaughey III||1:52.47|
|1992||Luv Me Luv Me Not||Glenn S. Wismer||1:51.41|
|1991||Lite Light||Jerry Hollendorfer||1:48.80|
|1990||Seaside Attraction||D. Wayne Lukas||1:52.80|
|1989||Open Mind||D. Wayne Lukas||1:50.60|
|1988||Goodbye Halo||Charles E. Whittingham||1:50.40|
|1987||Buryyourbelief||Lazaro S. Barrera||1:50.40|
|1986||Tiffany Lass||Lazaro S. Barrera||1:50.60|
|1985||Fran's Valentine||Joseph Manzi||1:50.00|
|1984||Lucky Lucky Lucky||D. Wayne Lukas||1:51.80|
|1983||Princess Rooney||Frank Gomez||1:50.80|
|1982||Blush With Pride||D. Wayne Lukas||1:50.20|
|1981||Heavenly Cause||Woodford C. Stephens||1:43.80|
|1980||Bold 'n Determined||Neil D. Drysdale||1:44.80|
Like the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks has a defined series of prep races, which award points of varying values to the top four finishers. These races take place around the country starting in September of each year, and the top 14 runners are assured of making the big race. If a runner is ruled out, the next-highest horse on the leaderboard would earn the right to run.
The first round of prep races includes races when the fillies are 2-year-olds. This is topped by the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, and also includes prestigious races like the Chandelier, Alcibiades and Frizette stakes. In February, the fillies shift to races in the Road to the Oaks Championship Series.
This part of the journey to the event includes races bestowing up to 100 points to each winner, including the Ashland, the Santa Anita Oaks, and the Fantasy.
The Kentucky Oaks usually takes place on the first Friday in May. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 renewal was postponed to the first Friday in September.
The Kentucky Oaks runs with a field of 14 3-year-old fillies.
The connections of the winning horse receive $750,000 and a garland of lilies.
Various different types of seating are on sale, but note that Churchill Downs will limit ticket sales for this year’s event due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kentucky Oaks has been run at a mile and an eighth every year since 1982, when it was lengthened from its prior distance of a mile and a sixteenth. It usually lasts about one minute, 50 seconds.
The stakes record of 1:48.64 was set by Bird Town, who won the Oaks in 2003. That record was threatened by Untapable, when she stopped the timer in 1:48.68 in winning the 2014 renewal.