Kentucky Oaks “selection”

May 1st 2009 12:35 am |

Have you ever wondered why three-year-old filly races are referred to as “Oaks”?

Well, so did Frank Wilson of White Plains, New York who submitted that question to legendary race writer Joe Hirsch for his Question and Answer column in the Daily Racing Form. For this one, Hirsch asked Humphrey Finney for help. At the time, Finney was the Chairman of the Board for the Fasig-Tipton Sales Company (their sales pavilion at Saratoga is named for Mr. Finney who died in 1984). A native of England who spent a lifetime in the horse business, Finney relayed the following story:

“As the story goes, the Derby race originated at a dinner party when Lord Derby, in the 1770s, won the toss of a coin with Lord Bunbury for the honor of having the race for three-year-olds named after him. Another dinner party was held shortly after, with Lord Derby and his friends present, and it was decided to hold a companion race for three-year-old fillies. It was agreed this race would honor Lord Derby’s estate, the Oaks, which was located near the Epsom Course, still the site of the English Derby and English Oaks. Both names, Derby and Oaks, continued through the years, and were brought to this country by the early English Settlers.”


Joe Hirsch A Treasury of Questions and Answers from the Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form (Trident Press, New York : 1969)

Good luck!

Filed in Humphrey Finney,Kentucky Oaks,thoroughbred racing history

6 Responses to “Kentucky Oaks “selection””

  1. dana says:

    darn coin toss, Kentucky Bunbury has a great ring!

  2. Ray Paulick says:

    Joe's Q&A's were a treasury and I'm sorry to say I didn't know that 1969 book existed. In my years working at the Form, I always enjoyed the Monday edition if only for Joe's Questions and Answers column.

    Thanks for the history note and for the reminder of how much I miss Joe's contributions to the game.

  3. The_Knight_Sky says:

    I was hoping Mr. Martin was going to come right out and say it!

    Oaks Selection:
    Justwhistledixie over Rachel Alexandra in a mild upset. 😉

  4. Colins Ghost says:

    Dana: Ha! "Who do ya like in the Burnbury?" I don't know – don't think it would be what it is today if Lord Derby lost the coin toss.

    Ray: Used copies of the collected Q&A's can be had for $10-20. Eddie Arcaro does the foreword. It's a classic – definitely worth tracking down.

    Knight Sky: Sorry – "selection" in the title was a bit misleading. Hate to be a chalk eating weasel but I think Rachel Alexandria crushes in the Oaks. She'd be my pick if she was against the boys on Saturday. Good Luck!

  5. The_Knight_Sky says:

    Well Rachel did “crush” as the chalk.

    Sad about the scratch of Justwhistledixie though.
    She was the only one in the field with a modicum
    of talent and potential.

    Perhaps one day.

  6. J & J Paints says:

    Really informative.