The 137th running of the Kentucky Oaks (Grade I) at Churchill Downs will be the richest in history as the purse for America’s most prestigious race for 3-year-old fillies has been raised to $1 million guaranteed, which doubles the purse offered in 2010.
The record-setting Kentucky Oaks, scheduled for Friday, May 6, and the $2 million guaranteed Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI), the nation’s greatest race and one of America’s top entertainment events, head a schedule of 25 stakes races with total purses of $7.325 million set for Churchill Downs 2011 Spring Meet. The 39-day meet opens with the first Kentucky Derby Week night racing event on Saturday, April 30 and will conclude with an Independence Day racing program on Monday, July 4.
The record purse for the Kentucky Oaks will make the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-old fillies the richest American race in that division. The increase will help boost the value of purses for six stakes races scheduled on the Oaks Day program to a record $2 million. That total is second at Churchill Downs only to Kentucky Derby Day, which also features six graded stakes races – three of which are Grade I events – with total purses of $3.4 million.
“There is no weekend in American racing like Kentucky Oaks and Derby Weekend, and it is exciting to raise the purse for the Oaks to a level that reflects its status and importance as a sports and entertainment event,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “The Oaks has enjoyed spectacular growth in recent years and the 2010 running won by Blind Luck was one of its greatest renewals. The 2010 attracted a record crowd of 116,046 and all sources wagering set records with $10.6 million bet on the Oaks race, and $30.6 million was wagered on the entire Oaks card, a jump of 20 percent from the previous record. The Oaks ranked eighth in the U.S. in betting on a single race in 2010, and wagering on the entire Oaks card ranked sixth. Along with its wagering success, the Oaks clearly stands on its own as a spectacular entertainment event, and the fundraising partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure® and national television coverage on Bravo have opened doors to new fans of America’s greatest race for 3-year-old fillies.
“While some stakes races have gone on hiatus and others have had slight adjustments in purse levels, our overall stakes schedule is strong and attractive, and our ‘big event days’ – the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks and Stephen Foster Handicap – head a roster of stakes races that offers wonderful opportunities for horsemen in nearly every division.”
he 2011 Churchill Downs Spring Meet kicks off with a spectacular racing and entertainment program under the track’s permanent lights that features the $200,000-added The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial. The Grade III Derby Trial is the final major prep for the Kentucky Derby, which will be run a week later. The opening night celebration that kicks off the Spring Meet will be the first Derby Week racing session conducted under the lights in Churchill Downs history.
The last purse increase for the Kentucky Oaks came in 1996, when the purse was raised to $500,000-added for the race won by Pike Place Dancer.
Three straight Kentucky Oaks winners – Rachel Alexandra (2009), Proud Spell (2008) and Rags to Riches (2007) – went on earn Eclipse Awards as champion 3-year-old filly. Two of those – Rachel Alexandra and Rags to Riches – defeated males in Triple Crown events in their next start as Rachel Alexandra won the Preakness (GI) on her way to Horse of the Year honors, and Rags to Riches defeated eventual Horse of the Year Curlin in the Belmont Stakes (GI). Blind Luck, the 2010 winner, is a finalist to become the fourth consecutive filly to pull off that double when the 2010 Eclipse Award winners are revealed on Monday, Jan. 17, in Miami.
Other recent stars who won the Kentucky Oaks on their way to 3-year-old championship honors include Ashado (2004), Bird Town (’03), Farda Amiga (’02), Silverbulletday (’99), Open Mind (’89), and Tiffany Lass (’86). Fillies that failed to win the Oaks but went on to earn Eclipse Award championship honors at the conclusion of their 3-year-old seasons include Wait A While (3rd in 2006), Banshee Breeze (2nd in ’98), and Go for Wand (2nd in 1990).
Along with the doubling of the Kentucky Oaks purse, other changes from last year in the 2011 Spring Meet stakes program include:
- Purses have been increased for the Churchill Downs Presented by Navistar (GII), which will grow by $50,000 to $300,000-added; the Alysheba Presented by Besilu Stables (GIII), which increases from $150,000-added to $300,000-added; and the American Turf (GII), which jumps by $25,000 to $200,000-added;
- Purses will be lower for the Stephen Foster Handicap (GI), which carries a purse of $500,000-added, a reduction of $100,000; and the La Troienne (GII), which drops by $100,000 to $300,000-added. The La Troienne decrease reflects a loss of $100,000 in Breeders’ Cup Stakes Program funding;
- The race previously known as the Northern Dancer is now named the Matt Winn, in honor of the legendary president of Churchill Downs who became known as “Mr. Derby” for his work in transforming the Kentucky Derby and its home track into international sports and entertainment icons during his 1902-1949 tenure at the track;
- Four races – the Fleur De Lis (GII), Kentucky Juvenile (GIII), the Locust Grove Handicap (GIII) and the race previously known as the Matt Winn – will go on hiatus for this year;
- The Edgewood Presented by Forcht Bank, a $100,000-added turf race for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, returns after a one-year hiatus and will be run on Kentucky Oaks Day;
- The $100,000-added Eight Belles Presented by ACS, A Xerox Company (GIII) will move from Kentucky Derby Day to Kentucky Oaks Day, and its distance has been changed to seven furlongs from its recent 7 ½ furlongs, and
- The five-furlong, Grade III Turf Sprint run in recent years on Kentucky Oaks Day has been moved to Kentucky Derby Day and is now named the Twin Spires Turf Sprint.
“It was difficult to place four quality stakes events on hiatus for this year, but our racing team
looked very closely at our events and stakes schedules at other tracks in our region and around the United States and that allowed us to put together the strongest possible stakes schedule for 2011,” Flanery said. “Of the 25 races on our 2011 stakes schedule, 16 are scheduled on those ‘big event days’ surrounding the Derby, Oaks and Stephen Foster. These big days have proven extremely popular with fans and horsemen, as are our ‘Downs After Dark’ night racing programs. The record $1 million purse should make the Kentucky Oaks even more attractive to fans, owners and trainers, and we are very excited about our Spring Meet kickoff under the lights and this year’s running of The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial, an important prep that could have an impact on the field for the Kentucky Derby.”
The stakes schedule for Churchill Downs 21-day Fall Meet, which runs from Oct. 30-Nov. 2 and will include the two-day Breeders’ Cup World Championships on for the second consecutive year on Nov. 4-5, will be announced later this year.