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5.4.2001 Photo By: Jeremy Lyverse
Flute captured the 127th running of the Kentucky Oaks.
The Kentucky Oaks offers the winner’s share of a $500,000-added purse and a garland of lillies to the three-year-old filly that wins. But the victorious filly also earns the prestige that goes with winning a race that has become one of America’s most coveted stakes races.

The Oaks is renewed each year on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, but it is much more than a sister race to the famed “Run for the Roses.” The roster of horses that have won the 1 1/8-mile race in its first 125 years includes some of the greatest fillies in racing history, but the Oaks has enjoyed explosive growth in recent year. It has become not only a prestigious and important race, but a major event that now attracts massive crowds that are second only to the Kentucky Derby among American racing’s major attractions.

Last year’s 126th running of the Kentucky Oaks, won by William S. Farish, James Elkins, and W. Temple Webber, Jr.’s Secret Status, attracted a record-shattering crowd of 106,156 to Churchill Downs on a beautiful spring day. It marked the second consecutive year that Oaks crowd had cracked the 100,000 mark and continued a growth trend that has seen attendance for the event more than double since it attracted 49,556 in 1980.

The most significant growth has occurred since Churchill Downs opened its Infield to the Oaks Day crowd in 1989. The Oaks attracted 67,115 that year.

“It’s really fast becoming one of those fixture-type races,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, who has trained four Kentucky Oaks winners. “It has gained a lot of status. I think its scheduling on the Friday before Derby gives it a big push, but the Oaks is one of those coveted races that all trainers would like to win. I think you can go in there to Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday and if you win either one of them, you can come out of there with a pretty good feeling.”

The Kentucky Oaks dates back to the earliest days of Churchill Downs, which was known as the Louisville Jockey Club when it conducted its first race meet in 1875. Its first running was held Wednesday, May 19, 1875 as one of four stakes races developed by founder M. Lewis Clark for the track’s inaugural meet. The others were the Kentucky Derby, the Clark Handicap and the Falls City Handicap.

Three of those races - the Derby, the Oaks and the Clark - were modeled after Classic races in England. The Oaks was fashioned in the image of the English Oaks at Epsom Downs.

The distance of that first running of the Oaks was 1 ½ miles and A.B. Lewis & Company’s Vinaigrette was the winner. She earned a winning purse of $1,175 and was timed over the 12-furlong distance in 2:39 ¾.

The victory by Vinaigrette launched a strong tradition for the Oaks, which - like the Derby - has been renewed each year without interruption since its inaugural running.

Its roster of winners includes champion three-year-old fillies Wistful (1949), Real Delight (1952), Cicada (1962), Dark Mirage (1968), Susan’s Girl (1972), Davona Dale (1979), Tiffany Lass (1986), Open Mind (1989) and 1999 winner, Silverbulletday.

Three-year-old filly champions that have competed in the Oaks, but failed to win, include: Doubledogdare (1956), Furl Sail (1967) Our Mims (1977), Wayward Lass (1981), Go for Wand (1990), and Banshee Breeze (1998).

Former President George Bush was among those cheering when Secret Status launched a breathtaking move on the far turn to demolish a field of 13 rivals in her 6 3/4-length victory in the 126th running of the Kentucky Oaks. Bush is a close friend of William S. Farish, the chairman of the board of Churchill Downs Incorporated and the co-owner and breeder of the chestnut daughter of 1992 “Horse of the Year” A.P. Indy. Jockey Pat Day collected his second Oaks victory and trainer Neil Howard earned his first as Secret Status rallied from last to win with ease and take the garland of lillies that is reserved for the Oaks winner.

The victory margin by Secret Status was the largest in the Oaks since Oaktown Stable’s Lite Light scored a 10-length victory in 1991.

Secret Status covered the 1 1/8-mile distance over a “fast” track in 1:50.30 in defeating the pacesetting Rings A Chime and Classy Cara. Kumari Continent, the lukewarm favorite at 9-2, finished ninth. Secret Status was the second wagering choice in the Oaks, also going off at odds of 9-2.

Kentucky Oaks 126 carried a purse of $610,800, the richest in the history of the race, and Secret Status earned a record winner’s share of $378,696. The previous record purse for the Oaks was the $605,500 offered in 1998, when Keeper Hill earned a record winner’s share of $375,410.

The Kentucky Oaks was run at 1 1/8-miles from 1920-41 and in each year since 1982. Lite Light, trained by Lukas and ridden by Corey Nakatani, turned in a record Oaks clocking of 1:48 4/5 for 1 1/8-miles in her 1991 romp.

Along with its original 1 ½-mile distance (1875-90), the Kentucky Oaks has been run at distances of 1 ¼ miles (1891-95) and 1 1/16 miles (1896-1919 and 1942-81). The record Oaks times at those distances are:

  • 2:39 for 1 ½ miles (Felicia, 1877; Belle of Nelson, 1878; Katie Creel, 1882)
  • 2:15 for 1 ¼ miles (Selika, 1894)
  • 1:43 3/5 for 1 1/16 miles (Ari’s Mona, 1950) and Sweet Alliance, 1977)

Lukas leads active trainers with four Oaks victories and is tied with Calumet Farm legend Ben Jones for second on the all-time list. Hall of Fame trainer and Kentucky native Woody Stephens, who died in 1999, leads all trainers with five Oaks victories.

Calumet Farm, which holds the record for most winners of the Kentucky Derby with eight, won the Kentucky Oaks six times to head the list of leading winners of Oaks winners.

Riding legend Eddie Arcaro and Manuel Ycaza each rode four Oaks winners and are tied atop the list of Oaks-winning jockeys. Bill Shoemaker is next with three wins. Chris McCarron, Eddie Delahoussaye and Pat Day lead active riders with two Oaks wins each.

Jerry Bailey is the most recent jockey to win the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby in the same year. Bailey piloted Dispute to victory in the 1993 Oaks and won the Derby the next day aboard Sea Hero.

The last trainer to earn the Oaks-Derby double was Calumet Farm’s Ben Jones, who won the 1952 Oaks with Real Delight and took the Derby the following day with Hill Gail.

The 1952 victories by Real Delight and Hill Gail made Calumet Farm the last owner to win the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby in the same year.

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