The first Kentucky Oaks was held on May 19, 1875, back when Churchill Downs was known as the Louisville Jockey Club. The first horse that won was a tasty little filly named Vinaigrette. For most of the race’s history, it’s been known as the locals’ day at the track, less expensive and less crowded than Kentucky Derby Day. Now someone has given us Thurby and prices continue to climb on Oaks (general admission is up to $60 at the track!), so who knows?
But local businesses and institutions handle the day differently.
Alison Brotzge-Elder said that Greater Louisville Inc. closes at noon for a couple of reasons. Many GLI employees host guests from out of town. “We’re all about talent attraction,” she told Insider in an email. Also, she said that traffic downtown “starts to get pretty hairy” when Derby visitors are in town.
But for GLI employees, there’s a work-based reason to leave the office early on Friday. “It is important for our employees to be able to represent GLI across the city at what is the biggest event of the year here,” Brotzge-Elder said. “We want to be out there putting our best foot forward to show people what an awesome place Louisville is to live and work.”
The city, however, doesn’t close early, “It’s business as usual on Oaks Day,” Jessica Wethington, communications manager at Louisville Forward, told Insider. “Many city employees are working both Oaks and Derby – public safety, mayor’s staff, economic development, etc.”
Humana spokeswoman Kate Marx said, “It is business as usual for us all week.” So employees at Louisville’s third-largest employer will still be packing the downtown garages.
“We give employees a half day off, but they can choose that half day any day of the week, so they can attend the races earlier in the week (such as Thurby) or go to the Parade on Thursday afternoon,” wrote Brown-Forman’s director of corporate communications Phil Lynch. “Or go to Oaks on Friday. Employees check with their managers, of course, to ensure an entire department isn’t gone Tuesday-Thursday afternoon.”
But Lynch said that the Oaks was the most popular choice. “By Friday afternoon, there aren’t many people still working, so most take their half day off on Friday,” he told Insider.
Jefferson County Public Schools, Archdiocese of Louisville schools and most private schools are out on Friday. Jennifer Brislin, who works in media relations at JCPS, said that no one in the office knew for sure when the school system started giving kids the day off on Oaks Day. (For teachers, the day is a professional development day.) One colleague who has worked at JCPS for 24 years told Brislin that JCPS has been off on Oaks since she started working there.
Between traffic and parents keeping their children home from school, having school on Oaks Day “would be a logistical nightmare,” Breslin said.
Some workplaces are doing things to make working on an unofficial holiday more tolerable like throwing cookouts or allowing employees to wear jeans.
According to the most recent results of IL’s unscientific poll “Do you work or play on Oaks Day?,” a full 48 percent of the 200-plus folks who responded will have their nose to the grindstone on Friday. Allegedly, at least. You can lead a horse to the office but you cannot make him be productive.
Around 39 percent of those who responded said they would be headed to the track, either because they had the day off or would take it off.
Only 13 percent are going to be lounging around at home, catching up on watching “American Gods” or something. This may actually be the smartest idea; the forecast for Friday is a high of 52 degrees with an 80 percent chance of rain.