Community

Jockey Luis Saez rode Secret Oath to victory at the 148th running of the Kentucky Oaks on Friday. 

The horse, which had 4-1 odds, is owned by Briland Farm and trained with D. Wayne Lukas.

“Down the backside, I told Luis to not get too creative, to make his move if he was going to get in position on the backside,” Lukas said. “Of course, when he did that, I felt pretty good.”

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

Horses walk the track during a downpour at the 148th Kentucky Oaks.

Lukas said as he saw Secret Oath making gains, he simply hugged his wife and said, “Here we go.”

It was Lukas’ fifth Oaks victory, tying him with Woody Stephens as the race’s winningest trainer.

Before Friday, Seaside Attraction was the last Lukas-trained horse to win, back in 1990.

Secret Oath was born and raised at Briland Farm. Robert and Stacy Mitchell, who own the farm, said they didn’t originally plan to keep her.

They put the horse up for sale, but she didn’t draw any interest.

“We’re very blessed that the clouds and heavens work out just right and she didn’t sell for a reason,” Stacy Mitchell said.

Nest and Desert Dawn placed second and third, respectively.

“It feels good to be back to normality”

Just two years ago, visitors were barred from attending the Kentucky Derby and Oaks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sight at Churchill Downs on Friday couldn’t have been further from that. 

Despite some afternoon rain showers, 100,188 people packed into the venue. Spectators began pouring in before the first call to post around 10:30 a.m.

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

A man shields nachos from the rain while running and proclaiming “This is how much I love my wife.”

They strutted through the green gates and into the main plaza in ornate, spring-colored outfits and big hats. Visitors mingled in the plaza, where they perused tents from high-end brands or waited for horses to be paraded around the paddock.

Eighty-year-old Flo Sullivan was waiting in line at a photo station with her nieces, Kelly and Cindy. Sullivan, who traveled from Florida, said it was a “bucket list” trip.

“For years, I was going to buy me a hat and go to the Derby,” she said. “And these guys made it happen for me.”

Sullivan, who donned a bright pink fascinator and matching dress, said she was looking forward to placing a bet using her special method.

“I’m picking by favorite color and the silks,” she said.

Vendors moving through the plaza shouting “free beer” and “free lilies” found many takers, even before noon. It was a continuation of the track’s pandemic-era rule of all-inclusive tickets for the two premier races: Oaks and Derby.

Roberto Roldan

Spectators who were able to drop the money sat shoulder-to-shoulder in the stands. Don Eichman drove 11 hours from Philadelphia to see the races. Standing next to a stranger he met in the stands, Eichman said he was happy to be attending big events again.

“Things look great,” he said. “Everyone’s having a good time.”

Eichman said his favorite part of Oaks was the people-watching, something he couldn’t do much of during the pandemic.

“It feels good to be back to a normality, right?”

There wasn’t much social distancing in the infield either, where a younger, more dressed down crowd seemed to mostly ignore the horses racing around them. Instead, they were focused on the festivities: food trucks, a music stage and, of course, the alcohol.

Roberto Roldan | wfpl.org

Spectators watch Oaks races from the Churchill Downs infield.

“The crowd’s fun, the tickets are cheap, and we can drink as much as we want,” said Tucker from Lexington, who only wanted to be identified with his first name. “It’s a great place to be.”

Tucker’s friend, Alex, came to Louisville from Maine. Friday was his first time attending a Derby event and his first time drinking a mint julep.

“It was more sugary than I thought,” Alex said. “I’m also not a cigar guy, but I figured I had to while I was here.”

Many attendees said they were making bets based on the jockeys’ outfits or a horse with a name they like. Others said they put money on whatever horse was assigned their lucky number.

J. Tyler Franklin | wfpl.org

Intermittent rain didn’t deter the spirits of many attendees at the 148th Kentucky Oaks.

The 148th Oaks was a boon for those who beat the odds and made money betting on any of the thirteen races. It’s also a boon for Louisville Metro, with Derby season having an estimated $400 million economic impact. 

Two horses, Ethereal Road and Rattle N Roll, have been scratched ahead of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Rich Strike was added to the race.

Epicenter and Taiba are the favorites to win the Run for the Roses, with 5-1 odds.

This story has been updated.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL.
Breya Jones is the Breaking News Reporter for WFPL.