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Kentucky Oaks day is a fun, surreal day of racing; while Friday is in and of itself an incredible experience, it’s also punctuated by a sense of anticipation since the next day is the Kentucky Derby. But I love Oaks day for the sense of fun that surrounds it: people are so happy to kick off their Derby weekend, and Churchill Downs is dolled up to the nines to celebrate the fillies competing that afternoon. 

My day started off with a trip to the backstretch – although I wasn’t planning on looking at any horses, I did have a very good reason to go: I finally had a new, working computer, and it was sitting with my colleagues from NTRA in the John Deere tractor showplace. When I went to pick it up, I had an even better surprise waiting for me: an Al Roker sighting! I mean, everyone loves Al Roker. It’s part of being American! 

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He’s so cool.

I also had the fantastic pleasure of seeing one Mary Frances Dale, pictured below on the left in the pink hat. She was one of our ABR Ambassadors last year, and she is a ray of sunshine every time I see her. She was there to show off the fabulous millinery of Christine A. Moore, and she here she is rocking an awesome hat alongside its creator, Christine. 

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After that, I had to boogie straight over to the press box because the photographers’ meeting was about to take place. I kind of love the Derby photographers’ meeting, because when everyone heads onto the racetrack to find out where they’ll be shooting it’s kind of like the first day of camp: you get to see all of the folks that you only see at big races when they’re all in one place at one time. I even got to catch up with the fantastic Gonzalo Anteliz, Jr. who is pretty much universally regarded as the nicest guy in the horse racing world. 

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After the photographers’ meeting was over, it was time for the race day to begin. Because the races on Oaks day begin very early (at 10:30 a.m), I managed to eat lunch at about 10 a.m. so I could be sure to have plenty of time to get photos of Oaks attendees. Also: I will eat lunch food just about any time, and the spread we were treated to today was incredibly tasty thanks to the generosity of Canon cameras. Thanks Canon!

After I had gobbled down my food like the glutton that I am, I headed out into the crowd to check out the Oaks day atmosphere. Despite the fact that it was still pretty early in the day, the crowd was growing as people poured into the track.

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To my absolute delight, some of the first people I ran into were two of my favorite folks from horse racing: the awesome Derek Brown and Matt Watts They are both hilarious and awesome, and Matt (pictured below on the right) has an outstanding flair for fashion.

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After I visited with Matt and Derek, I took a lap around the track to take in the fabulous Oaks Day fashion. I was not disappointed: people were dressed to impress, and this is only a small sampling of what I saw today:

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There were also some people here who were just having fun with fashion – and I love it! In a world where a lot of people take everything way too seriously, I adore those who skew toward the whimsical. 

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Aside from racing and fashion, fans come to Kentucky Oaks Day for the party – and believe me, the party is non-stop. The signature drink of the Oaks is the Lily, and check out how delicious it looks:

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And don’t worry: there were more than enough to go around. Vendors roamed the grounds, selling cocktails to the massive crowd that eventually totaled over 113,000. 

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Before I knew it, the big races of the day began. I was very excited to see the La Troienne Stakes. This is a 1 1/16 miles dirt race for female horses four years old and up, and the stunningly beautiful On Fire Baby was in the race. I love a dappled gray mare, and this one is a particularly talented racehorse. As the race went off, I had my toes crossed inside of my Chuck Taylors that she would come home in first place.

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And she did! Not only that, she won with ease. She tries her eyeballs out every time she runs, and she’s just a really fun horse to watch.

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After the La Troienne, I decided to head up to the roof to see the sights of Oaks Day from a bird’s perspective. It’s truly a breathtaking view; so much so that I actually totally forgot my nagging fear of heights.

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I decided to stay up on the roof to get photos of the Twin Spires Turf Sprint, a 5/8 of a mile dash on the grass for horses four years old and upward. I’m so glad I did: not only was it a really cool experience, but it was also a really neat shot.

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That starting gate shot is all the way across the racetrack, by the way. Have I mentioned recently how much I love my trusty little Nikon? Anyway, the winner of the Twin Spires Turf Sprint was Marchman, who hasn’t finished out of the money (meaning he’s been first, second or third) in his last four races. That’s pretty impressive!

When I got back down from the roof, the crowd had thickened to a horde – people were here for the big race, and that time was getting much closer. 

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After I hustled to the press box to dump my photos onto my computer, I hustled back out to the racetrack to catch the next race, the Eight Belles. This is a race restricted to three-year-old female horses (called fillies), and there was a talented group going forward in this test.

After seven-eighths of a mile, it was Fiftyshadesofgold who took home the win, gutting it out over a very game Milam to score the lion’s share of the $175,000 purse.

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There was a bit of a long break between the Eight Belles and the next major race, the Alysheba. Churchill Downs fills that time by playing music of all sorts; and when that old classic “Shout” came on, the whole crowd got into it. The best dance party had to be these three girls by far – they were even in sync! How cute are they? 

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After that break for boogying, it was then time for the Alysheba Stakes. I was rooting for the gorgeous Will Take Charge – I’ve been a fan of his since last year’s Triple Crown races, and let’s face it: he’s a stunningly beautiful horse. 

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But sadly today wasn’t Willy’s day; while he definitely looked fantastic in the moments leading up to the race, he just didn’t fire in the Alysheba. Instead, it came down to a battle between #1 Moonshine Mullin and #7 Golden Ticket. In the end, it took a crafty inside route by jockey Calvin “Bo-rail” Borel aboard Moonshine Mullins to get the victory, and the pair managed a victory by a half a length.

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I have to say, it’s a ton of fun to take photos of Calvin after he wins a big race. He wears his heart on his sleeve, and he truly enjoys each and every victory he scores. I mean, look at him: that is a happy, happy man!

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With that, it was time for the day’s main event: the Kentucky Oaks! An Oaks race is a race restricted to three-year-old fillies, and the Kentucky Oaks is the most prestigious of these types of races in America. This year’s edition had attracted a field of 13, and as the fillies walked over to the saddling paddock the crowd swelled to catch a glimpse of a future champion.

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The fillies went to the paddock to have their racing saddles placed on their backs and parade for fans as their trainers and jockeys talked last-minute strategy, and soon it was time for the Kentucky Oaks. There was a scary moment right before the start of the race when #10 Empress of Midway lost her footing and got stuck in the starting gate; fortunately, she wasn’t hurt and was able to return to her barn to fight another day.

After the remaining horses in the race had re-loaded into the gate, it was the moment everyone had been waiting for: the Kentucky Oaks!

The horses sprang out of the starting gate en masse, all vying to get to a good position before sweeping into the first turn of the 1 1/8-mile contest. 

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But in the end, the winner hit the finish line alone: It was Untapable in a stunning performance with jockey Rosie Napravnik aboard.

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It was a great moment – I was there in 2012 when Rosie became the first female jockey ever to win this race, aboard Believe You Can and it speaks to her skill as a rider that she repeated the feat just two years later. Rosie said of Untapable, “She is magnificent,” and I don’t think there was a single person who saw the Kentucky Oaks who would disagree with her. And Rosie herself was outstanding, and very much deserved the applause she was awarded as she made her way back to the Winner’s Circle for the 139th running of the Kentucky Oaks. 

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As she awaited the garland of lilies that the Kentucky Oaks winner traditionally wears, Rosie was giving Untapable tons of pats and shoulder rubs. It’s clear that horse and rider share a bond, and I can’t wait to see what they achieve in the future.

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One last thing that I saw that I loved about Kentucky Oaks day was the national trend of #RideWithRose on Twitter:

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The reason this made me so happy is that Rosie Napravnik signed a deal with Wild Turkey that provides for every tweet that contains the hashtag #RideWithRosie, the Bourbon company would donate $1 to Old Friends Farm. Old Friends is a haven for retired racehorses, and it ensure its residents a safe home for their entire lives. Rosie has been vocal about her support for horses on and off of the racetrack, and it’s so wonderful to see her use her moment in the national spotlight to help the equine athletes at the center of our game.

With that, Kentucky Oaks day was in the books. What was your favorite part of the afternoon, and what are you most looking forward to for tomorrow’s Kentucky Derby? Let me know in the comments, and thank you so much for stopping by!

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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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