The Oaks at Epsom

History of The Oaks at Epsom

Older than the Derby by a year, the Oaks was the brainchild of Johnny Burgoyne, a soldier, playwright and politician who married into Lord Derby’s family. 


Burgoyne had leased his mansion to his nephew, the 12th Earl of Derby, and persuaded the nobleman to create a race over a mile and a half for three-year-old fillies, in response to the St Leger, which had been founded at Doncaster as a two-mile race for colts of the same age in 1776.

The first Oaks, named after Burgoyne’s Surrey residence, came in 1779 and was won by Lord Derby’s Bridget, whose sire Herod was also responsible for Faith, winner of the fillies’ Classic two years later, and 1783 victor Maid Of The Oaks.

In 1801, Eleanor became the first horse to win the Derby and triumph in the Oaks the very next day. The filly’s trainer, Mr Cox, died shortly before both races and his last words were recorded as “Depend on it, that Eleanor is a hell of a mare”.

John Gully, the prize-fighter and politician who had 12 children by each of his two wives, landed many big races as an owner and in 1846 he saw his Mendicant win the Oaks to climax a fantastic week that began with his colt Pyrrhus The First taking the Derby.

Fully 56 years after Eleanor, Blink Bonny became the s econd filly to complete the Derby-Oaks double when she prevailed in 1857. Trained and owned by William I’Anson in Malton, Yorkshire, the filly would have probably won the St Leger in the same year, but was pulled by regular pilot John Charlton on the orders of bookmaker John Jackson, who was renowned for corrupting jockeys.

La Fleche took her place in the 1892 Oaks field seeking compensation for defeat in the Derby three days previously. Already successful in that season’s 1000 Guineas, Baron de Hirsch’s St Simon filly was the victim of a deplorable ride from her apparently insane jockey, George Barrett, and was beaten less than a length. She duly won the Oaks and secured the fillies’ Triple Crown with victory in the St Leger. The winner of 16 races, La Fleche also won the Cambridgeshire, Champion Stakes and Gold Cup at Ascot.

In 1902, Sceptre captured both the 1000 and 2000 Guineas at Newmarket before finishing fourth in the Derby following an interrupted preparation. Trained by owner, journalist, and adventurer Robert Sievier, the filly returned to form with a resounding victory in the Oaks two days later. She went on to score in the St Leger, becoming the only horse to win four British Classics.

Pretty Polly won all nine of her starts as a two-year-old and started the 1904 campaign with victory in the 1000 Guineas, before going on to triumph in both the Oaks – when the shortest-priced scorer at 8/100 – and the St Leger for the fillies' Triple Crown.

One of the greatest-ever fillies, Pretty Polly triumphed in 22 of her 24 starts and subsequently enjoyed a  successful career as a broodmare.

Signorinetta became the third filly to complete the Derby-Oaks double in 1908, belying a starting price of 100/1 against the colts, while Fifinella was the last filly to manage the Classic double in 1916, when both races were held at Newmarket due to the First World War.

Colledge Leader saddled Lord Stanley’s 33/1 chance Quashed to win the 1935 Oaks. Quashed entered racing folklore the following season when becoming the fifth filly or mare to win the Ascot Gold Cup, a victory she achieved after a tremendous battle with the US champion Omaha.

Along with the 1901 winner Cap And Bells, Quashed is one of only two Oaks heroines deemed ineligible for the General Stud Book as her dam, Verdict, was the product of both a half-bred sire and a half-bred dam.

Sun Chariot triumphed in the 1942 Oaks, despite giving the rest of the field a furlong start when slowly away. The filly, leased to King George VI for her racing career by the Irish National Stud, won both the 1000 Guineas and the St Leger in more impressive fashion to claim the fillies’ Triple Crown.

This feat was emulated by Meld in 1955, who ran only four times as a three-year-old, but won them all – the 1000 Guineas, Oaks, Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot and the St Leger.

French-trained fillies have captured the Oaks on 10 occasions, the first being Imprudence from Joseph Lieux’s stable, who in 1947 added the mile and a half contest to victories in the English and French Guineas. Andre Fabre saddled the most recent triumphant French raider, Intrepidity, who scored for owner Sheikh Mohammed in 1993.

Carrozza became the initial Classic winner for Her Majesty the Queen when successful in 1957, while winning jockey Lester Piggott returned to partner 1000 Guineas scorer Petite Etoile to victory two years later, a filly he would later describe as the best he ever rode. Piggott won the Classic on six occasions, the other four triumphs coming on board Valoris (1966), Juliette Marny (1975), Blue Wind (1981) and Circus Plume (1984).

The Queen enjoyed a second Oaks success in her Silver Jubilee year of 1977, when Dunfermline triumphed before going on to win the St Leger. Six years later, another Dick Hern-trained filly, Sun Princess also completed that same Classic double. The filly won the Oaks by 12 lengths and was also third to the previous year’s Oaks winner, the brilliant Time Charter, in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes before finishing runner-up to another outstanding filly, All Along, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. 

Oh So Sharp gave Sheikh Mohammed his initial Classic victory in the 1000 Guineas before going on to an emphatic six-length win in the Oaks in 1985. The outstanding filly completed the fillies’ Triple Crown when scoring in the St Leger and is the latest three-year-old to achieve the feat. The owner has since gained three more Oaks victories – Unite (1987), Diminuendo (1988) and Intrepidity (1993) in his own colours.

There was controversy in the 1989 Oaks when first past the post Aliysa subsequently became the first British Classic winner to be disqualified following a positive dope test, with Snow Bride eventually promoted to first place. Aliysa’s owner, the Aga Khan, subsequently withdrew from British racing for five years in protest at the amended result which he mounted a strong challenge to.

Snow Bride went on to further distinction as the dam of 1995 Derby, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Lammtarra who remained unbeaten in a glittering career.

Salsabil enjoyed a fantastic Classic campaign in 1990, winning the 1000 Guineas before turning the Oaks into a procession with a five-length victory. The John Dunlop-trained filly then beat the colts with a fine turn of foot in the Irish Derby.

Jet Ski Lady, one of seven Irish-trained fillies to win the Oaks, was joint top-priced of any winner of the Classic, starting at 50/1 – the other successful filly at these odds was Vespa in 1833.

User Friendly was another prolific scorer as a three-year-old, winning six times during the 1992 season. The Clive Brittain-trained filly, who won the Oaks from a select field of six rivals, went on to score in the Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks before becoming the most recent filly to complete the Oaks-St Leger double. She also finished runner-up in that year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation had a first Group One success when Balanchine powered home in the 1994 Oaks, which also provided jockey Frankie Dettori with his first British Classic success. The outstanding filly also triumphed in the Irish Derby. Another Godolphin-owned filly, Moonshell, was successful the following year.

Imagine beat Flight Of Fancy and Relish The Thought in the 2001 Oaks, with all three being by stallion Sadler’s Wells. Kazzia, another owned by Godolphin, became the latest filly to complete the 1000 Guineas-Oaks double when prevailing by half a length at Epsom Downs in 2002. Further glory came in North America, where the filly scored in the Grade One Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park.

Another globe-trotting filly, Ouija Board, carried the famous Lord Derby colours to a seven-length victory in the 2004 Oaks, 225 years after Bridget had triumphed in the same silks in the inaugural running of the Classic. The Earls of Derby have won the Classic on seven occasions. Ouija Board went on to score six more times at the highest level, including the Irish Oaks, two Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turfs in the USA and the Hong Kong Vase.

Eswarah gave trainer Michael Jarvis a first Oaks success in 2005 and the filly, owner Hamdan Al Maktoum’s second victory in the Epsom Downs Classic after Salsabil, was the first out of another Oaks winner, 1986 scorer Midway Lady, since 1912 when Murska, a daughter of 1899 winner Musa, scored.

Alexandrova powered to a six-length victory in the 2006 Oaks, giving both trainer Aidan O’Brien and jockey Kieren Fallon a third success in the fillies’ Classic. The fifth daughter of Sadler’s Wells to win the Oaks, Alexandrova went on to complete an Oaks treble with triumphs in the Irish and Yorkshire versions.

There were emotional scenes in the winner’s enclosure in 2007 when Light Shift gave Henry Cecil a fantastic eighth victory in the Oaks and his first since Love Divine in 2000. The Newmarket trainer’s other Oaks winners came through Oh So Sharp (1985), Diminuendo (1988), Snow Bride (1989), Lady Carla (1996), Reams Of Verse (1997) and Ramruma (1999).

However, Cecil still has some way to go to catch Robert Robson, who saddled an incredible 12 Oaks winners between 1802 and 1825.

The 2008 renewal of the Oaks brought a first British Classic success for trainer Ralph Beckett and Seb Sanders as Look Here triumphed for owner-breeder Julian Richmond-Watson. The proprietor of Lawn Stud is the first senior steward of the Jockey Club to have owned an Oaks winner since the Earl of Chesterfield’s Industry was saddled to victory by John Scott in 1838.

Four years after enjoying Derby success with Motivator, Michael Bell celebrated a second Classic triumph at Epsom in the 2009 Oaks courtesy of Sariska. The Lady Bamford home-bred followed up with an effortless victory in the Irish Oaks, while runner-up Midday went on to score six times at the highest level. 

The 2010 Oaks winner, Snow Fairy, was supplemented at a cost of £20,000 at the five-day stage and rewarded her owner Cristina Patino. The Ed Dunlop-trained filly provided jockey Ryan Moore with a first English Classic victory and went on to triumph in the Irish Oaks, Japan’s Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup, the Hong Kong Cup at Sha Tin and the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup at Kyoto, Japan. 

Newmarket trainer William Haggas is the only trainer with a 100 per cent record in the Investec Derby, having scored with his only runner Shaamit in 1996, and in 2011 won the Invesec Oaks with his first starter when Dancing Rain led from pillar to post under Johnny Murtagh. The filly went on to land the German Oaks at Dusseldorf and saw off older opposition to land the QIPCO British Champions Fillies' And Mares' Stakes
at the inaugural QIPCO British Champions Day at Ascot in October 2011.



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