Kentucky Oaks, Just Another Pretty Race?

As Jessica points out, the Oaks is always overshadowed by the Derby and this year is no exception. I make a bit of a joke about in my Oaks Dating post (the opening paragraph) but the disparity between the Derby and Oaks coverage is SO great, it’s as if the Oaks just any other graded race for 3yo fillies. Is it?

I had the pleasure of having just this discussion, via the Horseplayers Teen Party Chat Line (twitter), with Ed DeRosa (who now blogs!). I sort of stupidly took his bait about why there was no outrage re: filly races on Friday compared to the Breeders’ Cup and the party began there. The point I was trying to make is that it’s frustrating to see such a huge disparity between how the races are covered. He freely admits that, in his opinion, not only is the Oaks just another G1 race but that it gets a “tremendous amount of publicity for what it is“.

In trying to make my point, a quick twirl around the mainstream media racing sites at approximately 11am-ish this morning showed the following:, all derby above the fold,, no Oaks above the fold, DRF (from phone), no Oaks headlines.

As of now (roughly 8pm-ish Monday night of Derby week), Bloodhorse is (and will continue to be) all Derby above the fold as their prime section is Triple Crown Mania), Thoroughbred Times is all Derby above the fold (no special Derby layout) and DRF has a new Derby homepage that actually has no news above the fold but 1 of 12 news items are on the Oaks and 10 of 12 are on the Derby (the other was on the tragic accident at Churchill). So, out of the top 3 media outlets, nothing on the Oaks above the fold.

There are currently 50 headlines about racing news, 35 of them are on the Derby while 4 of them are on the Oaks. That’s 70% of all racing coverage devoted to the Derby with 8% of all racing coverage being devoted to the Oaks.

Put aside for the moment the very valid point made by Val that this year’s Oaks is not all that interesting given how much Rachel Alexandra is overshadowing her entry mates. Did that situation slow down the Derby coverage last year when Big Brown was perceived to be a few cuts above the rest? Was last year’s deeper Oaks field covered at a reasonably higher percentage than this year’s? Without having taken the same sample at this time last year I can’t say for sure, but what are the odds that the coverage was noticeably different… 15-1, 30-1, 50-1?.

Publicity and news coverage are (sometimes) different. Just because the Oaks isn’t being well covered (har har) from a racing perspective doesn’t mean it’s not being promoted, as DeRosa points out. Not too long ago when I first started following racing I thought the Oaks was the filly equivalent of the Derby. Churchill, for the most part, promotes it as such. The Derby and Oaks both have a site with similar structure and content. The Oaks is also well attended but as one GbG commenter points out, the stellar attendance and handle might be more of a function of how Churchill structures it’s tickets and perhaps that the locals love their Oaks.

A quick visit to the Oaks Wikipedia page uncovers this:

The Oaks and the Derby are the oldest continuously contested sporting events in history and the only horse races to be held at its original site since its conception.


The Kentucky Oaks is considered by some to be the second most popular horse race in the American horse racing society due to its attendance. It attracts about 100,000 people in attendance a year since 2001’s 127th running of the Kentucky Oaks.[3] In 1980 it was about 50,000 people and by 1989 it had reached about 67,000 people.[1] The attendance at the Kentucky Oaks usually surpassed the attendance at the Preakness Stakes, the Belmont Stakes, as well as the Breeders’ Cup.

It’s worth noting that the cites are from books on the history of Louisville. I think it might be fair to say that the Oaks is the second most popular horse race in Louisville, but by using the yardstick of news coverage it doesn’t seem to ring true elsewhere.

So, Churchill promotes the Oaks as if it’s the filly equivalent of the Derby but the media either doesn’t treat it as such because it does agree OR thinks the filly equivalent of the Derby only merits 8% of coverage vs. 70% for the Derby. Either way, I stand by my original point… annoying!