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The history of the Epsom Oaks

One of the highlights of the Epsom Derby meeting, which takes place over two days in early June; the fillies’ Classic, the Investec Oaks spearheads the opening day of the top-class fixture.

The third of the season’s ‘Classics’ – and the second for fillies only – the race can be considered the middle leg of the Fillies’ Triple Crown, which also incorporates the 1000 Guineas and the St Leger. However, very few attempt the feat of winning all three contests.

The race is named after the Earl of Derby's estate ‘The Oaks’ which is situated around four miles to the east of Epsom Downs.  The race came about during a dinner party discussion held at the retreat where e the Earl and his friends planned a sweepstake for three-year-old fillies over a distance of what is now the Oaks distance of one and a half miles.

The Oaks was first run in 1779, one year earlier than the colts’ Classic ‘the Derby’, and the inaugural running of the race was won by Bridget. The race subsequently became one of the Britain’s leading events for three-year olds, retaining the name ‘The Oaks’.

While the Epsom renewal is the jewel in the Oaks Crown, the concept of the race has been copied several times over, with equivalent Oaks races being held in several European and worldwide countries, giving rise to the likes of the Irish Oaks, Preis der Diana (German Oaks), Prix de Diane (French Oaks) and even the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks).

There are also Oaks races at a regional level, with the likes of the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock, the Yorkshire Oaks at York, and the Cheshire Oaks at Chester.

Qualify wins the Oaks.

Past Winners

The Oaks has enjoyed a long and successful history, throwing up top class winners down through the years with recent big names including Taghrooda, Snow Fary, Ouija Board, User Friendly, Unite and Oh So Sharp from the 1980s to the present day.

Further back in time, the names of Sweet Solera, Musidora, Sun Chariot, Pretty Polly and Rockfel  are just a few of the big names who feature on an illustrious roll-of-honour.

The leading trainer in Oaks history is the late Robert Robon, who saddled an impressive tally of 13 winners between 1802 and 1825; while the most successful trainer in recent history is the late Sir Henry Cecil, who won the race eight times in his career, saddling the likes of Oh So Sharp, Diminuendo, Snow Bride and latterly Light Shift, who gave the trainer his final success in the race in 2007.

The 2014 renewal of The Oaks was named after the legendary trainer following his death in 2013; with the race being won by John Gosden’s Taghrooda.

1988 Epsom Oaks

The Field

Contested by the best fillies across the UK, Ireland and France, the race can occasionally draw runners from further afield and raiders from countries such as Germany and Italy have descended on Epsom to mount their challenge for the premier fillies’ test.

Aidan O’Brien, Andre Fabre, Alain Du Royer Dupre, Dermot Weld and Christian Von Der Recke are some of the trainers who traditionally send runners into the Oaks field, and both Aidan O’Brien and Andre Fabre have each won the race in the past.

The Course

The one and a half mile Epsom course represents a stern challenge for young horses, and its undulations have notoriously caught out many a runner in the Oaks.  The course provides a unique test that is unrivalled and unmatched anywhere else, with runners racing uphill from the stalls until sweeping down and around the famous Tattenham Corner into the unevenly cambered straight.


Trial Races & Finding a Winner

There are several early-season Trial races that take place ahead of the main event, with the 1000 Guineas being the leading trial for the race. In recent years, only Kazzia has won both the 1000 Guineas and The Oaks, achieving the feat in 2002; although Legatissimo went close to doing so in 2015.

In addition to the 1000 Guineas, other trials for The Oaks include the Fred Darling Stakes, The Pretty Polly Stakes, , the Cheshire Oaks, the Musidora Stakes and the Lingfield Oaks Trial. It isn’t mandatory though for a horse to have to have had a run in an Oaks trial prior to Epsom.

Given the demands of the race, it can often prove wise to concentrate on runners who have proven themselves over ten furlongs or further, and who have experience of tight tracks and undulations. Lingfield is perhaps the closest course in make-up to Epsom, where the turf course has an undulating, cambered terrain with a sharp downhill turn into the home straight.

The Meeting

Taking place over two days, the meeting starts on the first Friday in June with Investec Oaks day, and twenty-four hours later, the colts’ Classic – the Investec Derby – goes to post. 

Whatever the weather, although many hope for warm sun given the time of year, the fashionistas will be out in force to add a touch of glamour to the off-course spectacle and the two-day fixture is one to look forward to.

Racegoers can enjoy a picnic on the downs inside the racecourse and watch as the action unfolds around Tattenham Corner; while the electric atmosphere from the stands is something to savour.

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