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Oaks Day 2023: A look inside the culture and color at the track

A man in a light pink suit and hat has a long white beard styled into spikes. You can see pink glitter in his beard. He's at Oaks Day 2023 at Churchill Downs.
Jess Clark
Jeff Carta flew in with friends from southern California for Derby weekend.

It's the 149th Oaks Day at Churchill Downs, and on a beautiful day, the energy is high. LPM News reporters and editors are at the track detailing the color and culture of the filly-focused Friday.

Last updated 5:50 p.m.

Jeff Carta flew in from southern California with two friends who had Derby weekend on their bucket list. Carta, who competes in beard and mustache contests, donned his signature look, but added some pink glitter, just for Oaks.

A lot of people wanted his photo.

Jeff Cart, from southern California, came with two friends for Derby weekend.
Jess Clark
Jeff Carta, from southern California, came with two friends for Derby weekend.

When asked about his favorite horse racing memories, Carta got teary-eyed. He said he treasured going to the track with his dad when he was alive.

"He'd love to be here," Carta said of his dad.

For Derby tomorrow, he has a Santa Claus-themed look planned.

A man and woman face the camera, smiling. They're both wearing hats, and part of Churchill Downs is visible in the background.
Jess Clark
Mike and Kelly Sidoryk, from Canada, at Churchill Downs for Oaks Day 2023.

Mike and Kelly Sidoryk flew down from Canada, where Mike used to manage a race track.

Asked about how this compares, Kelly says it’s “amplified to a big degree.”

“I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like for Derby Day,” she said.

Two people show off their outfits at Kentucky Oaks
Jess Clark
Leslie Huddleston (left) and Jill Milby attended Kentucky Oaks.

Louisvillians Leslie Huddleston and Jill Milby have been coming to Oaks for the last 20 years.

Huddleston added feathers she owned to her hat.

“It’s always a creation," she said.

Milby got hers from a milliner in Australia, where she says hat-makers are “always ahead of the game.”

A couple talks to each other at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day 2023. He's wearing a blue, floral suit. She's wearing a peach dress, jacket and matching hat.
J. Tyler Franklin
Louisville Public Media
Crowds fill into Churchill Downs wearing their finest Oaks attire.

Cler Watkins, from Birmingham, Alabama, said going to the Derby has been on her bucket list for years. This is her first time at the Churchill Downs races. Watkins said she’s thrilled about the sunshine and the energy at the track.

“Everybody’s happy, and drinking, and having a good time,” Watkins said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

This is also the first Derby for Amy Edler, another out-of-state spectator from Green Bay, Wisconsin. She and her husband traveled down with two of their friends to experience the Churchill Downs festivities – and escape the cold Wisconsin spring.

Edler said Oaks Day is “beyond what you can imagine it to be.

“We are in the dead of what we call the ‘third winter’ in Wisconsin,” Edler said. “So to see all the color, and the sun, and the energy of people, it’s just really great.”

Down at the infield, spectators were sprawled out on lawn chairs, cheering on their favorite horses as the races played live on large screens overhead.

Best friends ShaVonda Thompkins and Phyllis Brown flew in from Texas and Maryland, respectively. They spent Oaks Day basking in the sun at the infield, soaking in the lively atmosphere. Thompkins said the infield had a “positive vibe to it.”

Two friends have their arms around each other's shoulders, smiling for the camera. They're at the infield at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day 2023.
Danielle Kaye
Phyllis Brown and ShaVonda Thompkins enjoy the infield on Oaks day.

“I’m having a ball – I don’t even know if I want to go home,” she said. “But you know, we’ve got to go home. This doesn’t last forever.”

This was Brown’s first time at Oaks. She said she plans to come back again next year.

The infield also drew in a younger crowd. Shanya Bibbs, a 21-year-old from Louisville, came to Oaks with her cousins and her boyfriend.

“I call this the wild area. Down here, anything can happen,” Bibbs said.

Five friends look at the camera, close together. Some wear hats, suits and dresses at the 2023 Oaks Day.
Jess Clark
Marcus Horton tried his first mint julep at Oaks Day 2023. He thought it was overrated.

Marcus Horton was in the grandstand with some friends at his first Oaks. He also tried his first mint julep. His review: overrated.

But the Oaks, itself—Horton is a fan.

“This is probably going to be my every year thing,” he says.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

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