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I woke up Friday morning with a grin on my face: it was Oaks day! The Kentucky Oaks is a truly historic race, attracting the top 3-year-old fillies in the nation for the last 139 years. It’s also a total scene, with people dressing to the nines to enjoy a day of some of the best horse racing in the world.

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When I arrived at the track at 8 a.m., there were already throngs of people waiting outside of the Churchill Downs gates, excited to start their day. I had to boogie directly over to the winner’s circle for the photographers’ meeting. This is when the "King of the Photographers" (I’m sure that he has a much more official title, but I haven’t a clue as to what it could be) tells the shooting gallery (my name for the bajillion photographers present on big days like this) what the best practices are for taking photos here. For example, he warns people not to lean out during the race as it blocks others’ shots and explains when is the best time to cross over the turf course. It’s a really important job, because some of the people who come here to cover the Oaks and Derby haven’t ever shot a horse race before, and it can be dangerous to be on the track with so many equines and people in one place at one time.

He also assigns spots to photographers so that there’s rhyme and reason to where people stand and people aren’t jockeying (see what I did there?) when it comes to race time. I scored myself a pretty darn good spot, and celebrated by promptly taking an absolutely terrible selfie in front of the famed twin spires with my cell phone.

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After we got all of the technicalities out of the way, I decided to do a little exploring and take in the sights of the day. I’m really lucky in that I have access to the rooftop here, which is an amazing privilege. It’s a truly breathtaking view, and afforded an incredible bird’s-eye perspective of the racetrack. 

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My friend Jill, who interns for us here at America’s Best Racing, was super-excited to be up there and asked me to take a photo. Yay, Jill!

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Of course, the reality is that I was exactly as excited as Jill was, so I asked her to return the favor. 

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After we finished with our giddiness, I headed down to the infield to get a feel for the scene. I love the infield – it’s the place where people go to just have fun for the day. Even as I was walking into the tunnel that goes under the racetrack, I could hear a group of revelers shouting about their excitement to win some money. I had to snap a photo!

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I also ran into this man  – I truly love when people have fun with their fashion at the races, and this guy was having a blast! 

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There were tons of other great looks for Oaks day, and while I managed to get photos of only a fraction of the people here, I hope you enjoy the spectacle that is Kentucky Oaks fashion. That’s the awesome thing about Oaks and Derby style – people go all out: everything from over-the-top looks to amazingly chic ensembles. I have to say, I love it all!

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It was really fun going through the crowd and interacting with so many people; and what a crowd it was! It was the second-largest fanbase to ever attend the race in its 139-year history.

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Even Governor Beshear and First Lady of Kentucky were there – they’re on the left in the photo below. Churchill Downs was definitely the place to see and be seen on Oaks day!

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I found out that there was a ladies’ fashion contest happening near one of the entrances to the track, so I hustled my way over there next see what was going on.  When I arrived, I witnessed something really special: a proposal.

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It was a touching moment, and as you can see from the picture below, she said yes. It was lovely to be there to see these two start the rest of their lives together, and they garnered a huge round of applause from everyone present.

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There were plenty of similarly lovely women in attendance competing on the pink carpet for a Longines timepiece, and they were certainly putting me to shame with their amazing style.

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After the fashion spectacle, it was time to take in some serious racing action! The big contests started off with the La Troienne Stakes, which is a race for fillies and mares (AKA female horses) aged 4 years old and older. It was pretty stiff competition, but Authenticity (#2 on the inside) proved the best of the bunch after a mile and a sixteenth.

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Up next was the Edgewood Stakes; this was another 1 1/16-mile test, this time for 3-year-old fillies competing on the grass. This one went to the amazingly named Kitten’s Dumplings, who won the race with ease.

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The next race of the day was the Eight Belles Stakes, a race, like the Oaks, for fillies 3 years old. This one is a little shorter than the Oaks’ 1 1/8 miles; it’s only seven furlongs, which is racetrack speak for seven-eighths of a mile. It was an outstanding field of young female horses, and the race literally came down to the wire, settled by a late-closing charge from So Many Ways, the horse on the outside with the white face.

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The Alysheba Stakes continued the amazing racing action; this is a race for horses 4 years old and older, and it included some of the more-talented older equines around. The winner? A horse called Take Charge Indy – he actually ran in the Kentucky Derby last year, and it was great to see him back at Churchill Downs. Want to know what’s even cooler about this horse? His little brother, Will Take Charge, will run in the Derby tomorrow. Talk about some good genes!

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The last race of the afternoon before the Oaks was the American Turf Stakes – this one’s for 3-year-old horses running on the grass, and people who follow my blog pretty closely will recognize the winner from my Tampa Bay Derby Diaries back in March: Noble Tune! He’s one heck of a good-looking horse, and he won with style today.

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His owner, Martin Schwartz, was seriously pumped about the victory, and he gave jockey Javier Castellano one heck of a high five upon his return to the winner’s circle. 

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Then it was Oaks time! One of the great traditions of the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby is called the “walk over” – this is when the human connections of the horse: the owners, trainers, grooms and their families escort the horse from the barn area to the saddling paddock amidst cheers from the crowd. It’s an amazing moment, and one that I hope everyone can experience at least once in their lives. 

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As the horses were heading to the paddock, I also caught sight of this little guy. I was obsessed with his miniature seersucker suit and his fascination with taking a photo of each and every horse. So cute!

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Then it was race time! Excitement was in the air and fans were screaming as the 3-year-old fillies swept in front of the grandstand for the first time.

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As the horses rounded the backstretch and turned for home, it was Princess of Sylmar who ruled the day, rewarding those who bet $2 on her with a $79.60 return on investment. Not too shabby, but what else should be expect from a horse named after royalty?

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Her owners, a group called King of Prussia Stables, were clearly beyond excited to have captured this race – heck, I would be, too! If you ever need to put a photo next to the word “jubilation” in the dictionary, you can just use the one below. I won’t even charge for royalties.

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So that was it for Kentucky Oaks Day for me. Thank you for checking in, and I can’t wait to share all of the awesomeness of Kentucky Derby Day with you come rain or shine!

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Penelope Miller

I'm Penelope Miller and I'm the Senior Manager of Digital Media for America's Best Racing. I've been involved with the Thoroughbred industry for most of my life and I want to make sure that the great sport of horse racing is enjoyed by people all over the nation. Please share your thoughts and ideas with me in the comments section below!

Image Description

Penelope Miller

I'm Penelope Miller and I'm the Senior Manager of Digital Media for America's Best Racing. I've been involved with the Thoroughbred industry for most of my life and I want to make sure that the great sport of horse racing is enjoyed by people all over the nation. Please share your thoughts and ideas with me in the comments section below!

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