The VRC Oaks is a Group 1 race for three-year-old fillies run under set weight conditions over 2500 metres at Flemington Racecourse on the Thursday two days after the Melbourne Cup. All the fillies that line up for the race carry 55.5 kilograms.
It is currently run as the Kennedy Oaks for sponsorship purposes, but most people call it the VRC Oaks, or simply the Oaks.
The prizemoney pool for the VRC Kennedy Oaks is $1 million.
History of the VRC Oaks
The first VRC Oaks was run in 1861, the same year as the first Melbourne Cup.
Because it is an age-restricted race, there has never been a multiple winner. As they say, you are only three once.
The list of winners is not particularly exceptional, which is mildly surprising from a race that will be observing its 160th running when it jumps in 2021.
Of the previous 159 winners, the lone legend was Light Fingers in 1964. Surround from 1976 was a good galloper, as was Rose Of Kingston (1981), Research (1988), Miss Finland (2006) and Samantha Miss (2008)
The rest had to be pretty good, good enough, at least, to win one of the most prestigious races for three-year-old fillies. A three-year-old filly capable of winning over 2500 metres is obviously a good horse, but the names of the winners lack some that stand above the merely good.
The race has had just three names over the course of its running. It was steadfastly the VRC Oaks from 1861 – 2006. From 2007 – 2016 it was the Crown Oaks and beginning in 2017, it was and is the Kennedy Oaks.
From this point forward, we will simply call it the Oaks.
Through 1972, the Oaks was a 2400-metre race, although before metrification it was given as 1-1/2 miles, or possibly 12 furlongs. The extra 100 metres were tacked on beginning in 1973.
From the inception of the Oaks through 1978, it was considered a Principal Race and was dubbed Group 1 in 1979 when the current race quality classification system was instituted.
There are some who refer to the race meeting that comes on the Thursday following the Melbourne Cup as Ladies’ Day after the VRC introduced, in 1962, Fashions on the Field, a concept that achieved popularity and has been expanded to other races.
So, you have the VRC to credit or blame for those hats.
The VRC offers two additional Group races on the day. There is a Group 3 fillies’ sprint race called the Red Rose Stakes and a Group 3 sprint for two-year-olds called the Maribyrnong Plate.
Race Venue of the VRC Oaks
The Oaks is and has always been run at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne.
As a 2500 metre event, the race starts on the course proper and does not use the 1200 metre straight. Horses start into the tight double turn after just 200 metres of galloping. They complete one full lap and have just a couple hundred metres to the finish.
More information about Flemington can be found on our PGR page that is devoted to in-depth details about the course and its history.
Racing History of the VRC Oaks
We mentioned earlier that the list of winners, all 159 of them through 2020, lacks much in the way of star power other than the few we mentioned.
Still, even for a race that started in 1861 as a staying race for three-year-old fillies, it is hard to conceive that any of the winners was not deserving or not in possession of good racing abilities.
The winner from 1861 was a filly named Palestine. She was foaled in 1858 and sired by Indian Warrior out of Pallas. She was of predominantly British lines, as were many in those times. Her earliest line with an Australian contributor was Miss Foote from 1827. All we could learn of her racing is that she ran third to the winner Camden in the Victoria Derby the year she won the Oaks.
When Modesty won in 1862, records were so spotty that beyond her dam Audacity, Modesty’s entire distaff side is blank and the only race we could verify with certainty that she won was the Oaks.
The 1863 winner, Illumination sheds some light on the predominantly northern hemisphere origins of most of Australia’s Thoroughbreds, but other than knowing she was good enough to win the Oaks at 12 furlongs, she was good enough to win the VRC St. Leger, another three-year-old race of 2800 metres for either gender that predates the Oaks by four years.
Through 1869, when Kestrel won, we have noticed that several of the winners were sired by Great Britain’s Warhawk.
The first significant name we encounter in the list of winners of the Oaks is Briseis. The information we can access for her shows that her sire was Tim Whiffler of Great Britain. Timmy was sent to Australia in 1871, when he would have been about 12 years of age. He did not race in Australia, but his name populates that lines of many a great racer.
Briseis’s racing record is complete, although we might be leery of its accuracy, given the quality of the record keeping of the time. She is given as racing 17 starts for six wins and four placings. Along with her win of the Oaks in 1876, she won the Doncaster Handicap. Her win of the Oaks came after she had won the 1876 Victoria Derby and Melbourne Cup in the span of one week. She raced until 1879, when she was sent to stud, but died from a fractured skull suffered when they tried to match her up with King Of The Ring.
The winner from 1895, Auraria, supplied us with something worthy by way of racing accomplishments, although we could not learn her number of jumps, wins or placings. What we did learn was that she had a period of success similar to that of Briseis.
In the year Auraria won the Oaks, she won the Melbourne Cup, the SAJC Australian Derby and three other races. She won the VRC Nursery Handicap, the Flemington Stakes and dead-heated Wallace in the C. B. Fisher Plate.
The 1903 winner, Sweet Nell, left us some good records. She was a force in Victorian racing. She made 31 starts for 11 wins and nine placings, which was good then, as it is now. She won the Caulfield Cup that same year. Her other major wins were the Caulfield Guineas and the VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes.
Earlier, we mentioned the 1895 winner Auraria and her dead heat with Wallace in the C. B. Fisher Plate.
Wallace once again enters the narrative as the sire of 1905 Oaks winner Lady Wallace. We don’t know how many jumps Lady Wallace made, but we can report that she won the Easter Stakes that same year. In 1906, she won the VRC All-Aged Stakes, so she apparently had some versatility, although it was much more common in the early 1900s for horses to prepare for and race a variety of distances.
Wallace contributed another winner by siring Moe that won the Oaks in 1912. Not much of Moe’s racing record has survived the years, but her lines were the stuff of dreams. Her sire Wallace was by Carbine. Other notables in Moe’s line were Great Britain’s Musket, and Australia’s Goldsbrough and 1866 Melbourne Cup winner The Barb.
A good filly named Furious won the Oaks in 1921. We know that she made 41 jumps for 13 wins and 12 placings and from knowing that she won the Oaks, we can assume that she won other good races, but the only one we know for certain was that she won the Rosehill Guineas, also in 1921.
The familiar name of Frances Tressady makes the winners list for 1923. Her other big win that has survived down through the years was the Victoria Derby from the same year.
Moving ahead to 1947 reveals the name of Nizam's Ring. Nizam's Ring was one of the many fillies to win the Wakeful Stakes and then the Oaks, but she was dead-heated in the Wakeful Stakes with Jalna.
A significant winner of the Oaks from 1955 is Evening Peal.
Like many Oaks winners, Evening Peal earlier won the Wakeful Stakes. Her other major win from that year was the QTC Oaks. In 1956, she won the Melbourne Cup and the AJC Oaks. She was money in any race with oaks in the name. Her other good win was the 1957 Canterbury Oaks, well, Canterbury Cup. She came close to beating Redcraze in the Caulfield Cup.
Some better than average fillies won over the next several years.
Innesfell (1956), Amarco (1957), and Chicola in 1958 are but a few.
What we know of Innesfell is that she was good enough to win a tough race. Amarco might best be remembered as the dam of Tobin Bronze. Chicola was probably the best racer. She filled the Wakeful Stakes –Oak double and she won another Group 1 races when she took out the Adrian Knox Stakes in 1959.
From 1959 through 1963, chronologically, the winners of the Oaks were Mintaway, Lady Sybil, Indian Summer, Arctic Star and Jingle Bells.
That brings us to 1964 and the legendary Light Fingers.
One of the best to come out of New Zealand, Light Fingers won the Melbourne Cup in 1965 and did much to polish the reputation of her trainer, Bart Cummings. She ran second to her stablemate Galilee in the 1966 Melbourne Cup.
Skipping ahead once more, we come to 1976, where Surround was leaving her mark on Australian Thoroughbred racing. Her big win from earlier that spring was the 1976 Cox Plate. Surround’s racing was good enough to land her in the Australian Racing Hall of Fame in 2014 and the ATC honours her with the Group 1 Surround Stakes at Randwick.
Rose Of Kingston took out the Oaks in 1981. Her three-year-old campaign included The Coolmore Stud Stakes and the Champagne Stakes in addition to the VRC Oaks. Rose Of Kingston will also be remembered as the dam of 1990 Melbourne Cup winner Kingston Rule.
We found a good filly in 1988’s Research. She was especially good that year, filling the Wakeful – Oaks double. She was Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year for 1989 and she remains the only filly to win the AJC Derby – AJC Oaks double.
Kensington Palace was another good winner from 1997.
The modern era of the 21st century has given us its fair share of significant horses.
Miss Finland, from 2006, is one example. She earned over $4.6 million from 26 starts for 11 wins and six placings. She won the Golden Slipper Stakes that same year. She won three Group 1 races the following year and her exploits on the turf earned her honours as the Australian Champion Two Year Old in 2006 and Australian Champion Three Year in 2007.
Two years later, Samantha Miss was the 2008 Oaks winner. Too valuable to race, Samantha Miss tried just 12 races, of which she won seven and placed in four others. She was the first filly since 1993 to win all four legs of the Princess Series – the Silver Shadow Stakes, the Tea Rose Stakes, Flight Stakes and Furious Stakes. A torn tendon during training sent her into early retirement.
One of our favourites, Jameka, was the 2015 winner of the VRC Oaks.
Jameka won just under $5 million from 24 starts. She ran and competed well with such notables as 2016 Melbourne Cup winner Almandin, Humidor, Black Heart Bart and Hartnell.
A food filly named Lasqueti Spirit was the Oaks winner in 2016, followed by Pinot in 2017.
The next two years of 2018 and 2019 brought us Aristia and Miami Bound, respectively. A distinctive racing accomplishment both those two share was filling the Wakeful – Oaks double.
The final winner in our list is 2020’s Personal. She was by Fastnet Rock out of Personify. Personal won over $1.2 million and as best we know, was exported. She never won after the Oaks, but she turned in two seconds at Group level.
The VRC Oaks, or the Kennedy Oaks as it is currently known, has a long history as one of the premier staying events for three-year-olds in Australia.
While the list of winners is scant when it comes to legends and familiar, household names, there is no doubt that anything less than a top filly could win a race of this stature.
|Year||VRC Oaks Winners|
|1985||My Tristram's Belle|
|1984||Spirit Of Kingston|
|1981||Rose Of Kingston|
|1971||Kiss Me Cait|
|1875||Maid Of All Work|