The VRC Oaks is one of the premier races during the world-renowned Melbourne Cup Carnival, and is typically recognised as the biggest race on the calendar for three-year-old fillies. Having first been run 160 years ago, the VRC Oaks is steeped in tradition, so let’s go right back to the start.
The beginning of the VRC Oaks
The first ever edition of the VRC Oaks was held way back in 1861, making it one of the oldest races in Australia. This was the same year that many races which are still among the biggest in the country today were held, including the Melbourne Cup and the Australian Derby. For comparison, the Cox Plate, one of the most prestigious on the calendar, wasn’t held for the first time until 1922, more than 60 years later.
A horse named Palestine was the winner of the inaugural VRC Oaks, a race that was run over 1.5 miles - or a little over 2,400 metres. It would remain that distance until 1972 when Australia adopted the metric system, while an extra 100 metres was added to better suit the layout of Flemington Racecourse just one year later.
Oaks Day becomes Ladies’ Day
These days, Oaks Day is recognised as Ladies’ Day - though depending on who you ask it is also often less formally referred to as Blokes’ Day. This concept of Ladies Day was first introduced back in 1962, when the Victorian Racing Club dubbed it as such in an attempt to attract more women to Flemington on race day. Fashions on the Field was a major element of the concept, and both it and the day more generally have grown drastically in popularity in the almost-60 years since to become one of the biggest events of Melbourne’s Spring Racing Carnival.
The most notable winners
With over 160 years of history, the VRC Oaks has had plenty of time to establish itself as the premier race for three-year-old fillies which it is recognised as today, and as is always the case, a consistently high-quality field and a number of elite winners has played a major role in that.
Briseis was one of the first great fillies to win the race, taking it out in 1876 in a brilliant six-day stretch which incredibly saw her also take out the Melbourne Cup and the Victoria Derby. Evening Peal was another horse to win both the Melbourne Cup and the VRC Oaks, though she followed a bit more of a typical route by winning the VRC Oaks in 1955 and the Melbourne Cup the year after. Nine years later, the champion Light Fingers won a thrilling edition of the race, while Surround took it out in 1976.
More recently, Miss Finland was a popular winner in 2006, while Samantha Miss won it two years later in a 12-race career which saw her win seven times and place in all but one start. Last year, Personal became the latest filly to etch her name into VRC Oaks history, wearing down the leaders to stretch clear by a length at the post under the ride of Damien Oliver, who won his sixth edition of the race in the process.
The VRC Oaks is one of the oldest and most prestigious races in Australia, having been run for 160 years and marking the beginning of numerous historic careers. With such a long and storied history, and with so many champion fillies having taken it out, it’s little surprise that this race has firmly established itself as one of the most significant in the country.