The Oaks Stakes, or the Oaks for short, is the second, and final, Classic horse race of the season restricted to three-year-old fillies. The race is run over the same course and distance as the Derby – that is, 1 mile 4 furlongs and 6 yards on Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey – and is run on the opening Friday of the Derby Festival, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day, in late May or early June. Consequently, the race title is sometimes preceded by the epithet ‘Epsom’, but usually only to distinguish the Classic from other, less auspicious races, such as the Cheshire Oaks at Chester and the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock Park.
Inaugurated in 1779, a year before the Derby, the Oaks takes its name from a nearby residence of the 12th Earl of Derby, situated to the east of the town of Epsom. The race is, in fact, the second oldest of the five Classic races run in Britain, after the St. Leger, which was inaugurated three years earlier. The Oaks also forms the second leg of the so-called Fillies’ Triple Crown, after the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and before the St. Leger at Doncaster. However, the Fillies’ Triple Crown has only ever been won by five fillies, the most recent of which was Oh So Sharp, trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, in 1985, and is rarely, if ever, attempted these days.
In total, Sir Henry Cecil saddled eight Oaks winners between 1985 and 2007, but the most successful trainer in the history of the race was Robert Robson, a.k.a. the ‘Emperor of Trainers’, who saddled 13 winners between 1802 and 1825. Robson also saddled seven Derby winners between 1793 and 1823. The most impressive Oaks winner, at least so far, was Sun Princess in 1983. Owned by Sir Michael Sobell, trained by Major Dick Hern and having just her third start, Sun Princess turned the Oaks into a procession, pulling clear under Willie Carson to win by 12 lengths, which remains the widest winning margin since distances were first recorded in 1842.