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Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby – Which to attend?

Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby – which to attend?

Everyone has heard of the Kentucky Derby, the “greatest two minutes in sports” and the first race of the prestigious Triple Crown.  The Kentucky Derby is the most popular horse race in the world, with the largest purse and roughly 160,000 fans in attendance. But have you heard of the Kentucky Oaks?  In popularity it trails only the three Triple Crown races (the Derby, Belmont & Preakness). Attendance at the Kentucky Oaks surpasses that for the Belmont and rivals that for the Preakness, now making the Kentucky Oaks either the 2nd or 3rd most attended horse race in the world annually.

Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Oaks is always hosted at Churchill Downs the day before the Kentucky Derby.  In case you were wondering, the Derby is always held on the first Saturday in May, while the Oaks is on Friday, the day before.  Both races are restricted to 3-year-old thoroughbreds, but there are some key differences. The Kentucky Oaks is only for female horses, known as “fillies.”  The Kentucky Derby, by comparison, is open to horses of either sex.  The prize money for the Oaks is a bit smaller than the Derby, but it is still one of the highest paying horse races in the world.

Both days at Churchill Downs are amazing experiences.  Men are often donned in colorful sport coats, and women are typically dressed in beautiful gowns and big hats.  Attending both races is a mix of celebrities from all genres — rock stars, movie stars, politicians and athletes.  Both events start in the morning with a full day of drinking, gambling, people watching and horse racing, culminating in the biggest race very late in the afternoon.  Both events have a signature drink — for the Derby it is the famed Mint Julep while the Oaks offers the Oaks Lily, which is a combination of vodka, triple sec, sweet & sour and cranberry juice.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two days at the track is the cost.  Attending the Kentucky Oaks is usually about half the price of the comparable ticket to the Derby.  That makes the Oaks a much more affordable experience. If you are a traveler on a budget, then you can get almost the entire Derby experience for half the price by attending the Oaks instead.  The lower price point might also allow you to experience a more prestigious seating area that would otherwise be over your budget on Derby day

Many people come to Louisville with plans to do both events, back to back.  If this is your plan, then a simple word of caution…… The Oaks is a very long day with plenty of opportunities to over-imbibe.  Many fans have over-indulged on Friday and then had some trouble getting up on Saturday to do it all over again for the Derby. Pace yourself at the Oaks if you plan to come back the next day for the Derby!

For most people, the best option might be to choose either the Oaks or the Derby, and then use the other day to experience more of what Louisville has to offer.  There are horse farm tours and bourbon distillery tours that can fully round out your experience in the area.

Interested in attending either event? Read more about our Kentucky Derby program HERE.


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