The Oaks Stakes, or simply the Oaks, was founded by Edward Smith Stanley, Twelfth Earl of Derby, in 1779 and takes its name from the estate, known as Oaks or Lambert’s Oaks, in Woodmansterne, on which he had acquired the lease from his son-in-law, Sir John Burgoyne, some years earlier. The Oaks pre-dates the Derby – co-founded by, and named after, Lord Derby – by a year, making it the second oldest of the five British ‘Classics’ after the St. Leger, which was inaugurated in 1776.
The modern race is run over the same course and distance as the Derby – that is, 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 6 yards on the famous switchback course at Epsom Downs Racecourse – but, unlike the Derby, is restricted to thoroughbred three-year-old fillies. Indeed, along with the first fillies-only Classic of the season, the One Thousand Guineas, and the St. Leger, the Oaks forms the so-called ‘Fillies’ Triple Crown, last won by Oh So Sharp in 1985. The Oaks is currently run on the first day of the Derby Festival, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day, in late May or early June and, in 2018, offered prize money of £500,000, £283,550 of which went to the winner, Forever Together.
Historically, between 1915-1918 and 1940-1945, when Epsom Downs Racecourse was used for military purposes during World War I and World War II, the Oaks was run, as the ‘New Oaks Stakes’, at Newmarket. Records-wise, Robert Robson, known in his heyday as the ‘Emperor of Trainers’, is the leading trainer in the history of the Oaks, with 13 wins between 1802 and 1825, while Francis ‘Frank’ Buckle, a.k.a. ‘The Governor’, is the leading jockey, with nine wins between 1797 and 1823. More recently, the widest winning margin was recorded by Sun Princess, who won by 12 lengths in 1983 and, more recently still, the fastest winning time at Epsom, 2 minutes 34.13 seconds, was recorded by Cartier Horse of the Year, Enable, in 2017.