Brown-Forman and Churchill Downs Celebrate $1 million Raised for Women’s Health

Pretty in Pink

Originally published in the 2020 issue of Churchill Downs Magazine

At the Kentucky Oaks, pink is the color of the day. Most guests incorporate the color into their wardrobe ensemble, the winning filly is crowned with a blanket of Stargazer lilies, and even the track itself is decorated in bright rose bunting. The ubiquity of pink at Churchill Downs on Oaks Day actually inspired the now signature Oaks Lily cocktail, but it also has a greater significance: It stands as a symbol for the day’s mission to raise awareness and funds for women’s health issues, specifically breast and ovarian cancer. This simultaneous intersection of celebration and philanthropy years ago yielded an iconic collaboration, and this September, Churchill Downs will surpass $1 million raised and donated for women’s health, due in large part to the partnership with Brown-Forman and Churchill’s annual, multi-year commitment to donate $1 from each Finlandia Oaks Lily sold on Oaks Day to the cause. So every sip of a bright pink Lily has not only been part of a festive Oaks tradition but also helped bring national attention to women’s health and promoted the continued effort to find a cure.

The story starts with the genesis of the drink itself, with the impetus for developing the Lily coming straight from the track. “We really wanted to connect with something that was happening on track that day,” recounts Dallas Cheatham, Finlandia senior brand and integration manager at Brown-Forman. “Really what we were looking for was that color – it’s a brilliant pink, and we were trying to emulate the Stargazer lilies that are draped across the winning filly of each year’s Kentucky Oaks race.”

The resulting cocktail quickly became a community favorite at Churchill Downs Racetrack and beyond. “It’s a wonderful drink at the track, but also one that people planning at-home Derby parties can make really easily in their own homes,” Cheatham says, noting that not only is it simple to make as a one-off but it’s also an easy cocktail to prepare batched in a pitcher, or to serve as a mocktail by replacing the vodka with lemon-lime soda. Whether alcoholic or non, the Lily is tasty and visually enticing, especially when garnished with its signature blackberry and lemon wedge and served in the now iconic commemorative stemless wine glass. “We saw a lot of Pinterest recipes last year,” Cheatham recalls. “People are making enough to share with their friends and family that are coming over and celebrating with them.”

Even better, the sweet, summery drink is easy for anyone to love. “I think there’s a stereotype that the Lily is more of a lady’s drink,” Cheatham admits, “but it’s so crisp and refreshing that when hot days come to the track, I see all kinds of different people drinking the Lily. … Even though bourbon is more associated with the Kentucky Derby, and with Kentucky itself, people drink the Finlandia Oaks Lily too.”

The quality of the sustainably made Finlandia Vodka is inherent to the Lily and part of what made the partnership with Churchill Downs such a great success. “Craft, care and quality are all things we think about when we make our Finlandia products,” Cheatham affirms. “That’s where we see our partnership with Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby too. From the craft of the hats to the care that people are taking when they pick out their outfits to the quality of the horses on the track – we’re just really proud that we’re able to connect with a partner that has the same kind of attention to detail.”

And for Cheatham himself, his own experience is a testament to the strength of this partnership and the vitality of such a collaboration. “For me personally, I moved to Louisville two years ago, and I really see the excitement on track,” he emphasizes. “And for us as a brand, it’s fun to be so closely connected with something like the Kentucky Derby that’s just been going on so long and has such a long history and so much excitement. It’s just a fun place to be.”

Additionally, Finlandia is proud to be a part of the Kentucky Oaks beyond offering the Lily, as they join Churchill Downs in calling international attention to women’s health. “We’re really happy to partner with Churchill Downs on this drink because we know that it’s changing people’s lives in our community,” Cheatham explains. “Brown-Forman, our parent company, is always interested in supporting our community however we can – we’re really proud to just be a small part of that.”

That charitable contribution has grown exponentially. “It’s thrilling to realize that this year we will surpass the $1 million amount donated to organizations that advocate for women’s health through awareness, early detection or research,” says Tonya Abeln, president of the Churchill Downs Incorporated Foundation. The theme of the day traditionally combines fashion and fundraising to celebrate a historic race – and, even better, has become an impressive platform for raising funds and garnering national attention in support of women’s health. Of course, guests’ pink clothing is a highlight of the day, but the attention extends to a pink carpet, elaborate hats and high-profile celebrity guests, all of which in turn brings focus to a number of charitable partnerships, with multiple having a strong presence in the Louisville community.

“The Oaks charitable partners of the past 12 years have included Susan G. Komen, Bright Pink and Stand Up to Cancer,” Abeln explains, “but one of our longest-running partners now is through Derby Divas and Norton Cancer Institute. Through these partnerships over the years, Churchill Downs has committed to making a sizable pledge to our charitable partners.”

Another partner, Kroger, has annually presented the Survivors Parade, where breast and ovarian cancer survivors or surviving families walk on the historic racetrack in celebration of surviving or bravely battling cancer. “The Survivors Parade has really come to represent the heart of Kentucky Derby Week to many fans,” Abeln says. “The image of women celebrating their survival with family and friends, those still on their hard-fought cancer journey, and, sadly, some walking in memory of a dear loved one is incredibly impactful and inspiring.”

For 12 years, the Survivors Parade has been a major highlight of Oaks Day, celebrating the battle stories of each honored individual. Although the 2020 Survivors Parade will take place virtually due to health and safety concerns surrounding COVID-19, its impact will certainly still be felt through cause-driven programming as well as a video on the Big Board recognizing those originally slated to walk in the 2020 parade. This year’s survivors will additionally be invited back to participate in the 2021 live Survivors Parade.

While some of this fundraising and attention is supported by corporations, individual Churchill Downs guests and Louisville locals are an essential part of the process. “We’ve also been able to utilize the platform of the Kentucky Oaks and the interest in the Survivors Parade to encourage our fans to get involved as well,” Abeln says. “Each year, when fans go online to nominate a participant for the parade or vote for someone, they have the option of donating to our Oaks charitable partner. I’m blown away each year by how many people make the choice to do so. It’s not required, but people all over the country take the time to make a donation to Derby Divas and Norton Cancer Institute, which are organizations making an enormous difference in women’s health right here in our community.” For the fourth year in a row, Churchill Downs is amplifying these gifts by donating $50,000 to the breast health program at Norton Cancer Institute, with 2020 guaranteed to see the total fundraising efforts reach the $1 million milestone.

Funds raised from this partnership have been used to provide free screening services to underserved patients around the state and affect real change and advancements in women’s health initiatives. “Kentucky Derby Week is the opportunity for Louisville to be on a global stage,” Abeln contends, “so we really felt it was important to maintain that local impact for Kentucky Oaks.”

Pink Lily cocktails, a blanket of Stargazers and a special opportunity to give back to the community are all part of what make up Oaks Day. The beloved race puts Louisville on display for fashion and fun while also illustrating the community’s commitment to supporting the fight against breast and ovarian cancer. Combining the signature drink of the day with concentrated fundraising efforts is just a natural extension of what Oaks Day means to Louisville.

About Churchill Downs Incorporated

Churchill Downs Incorporated is an industry-leading racing, online wagering and gaming entertainment company anchored by our iconic flagship event – The Kentucky Derby. We own and operate Derby City Gaming, a historical racing machine facility in Louisville, Kentucky. We also own and operate the largest online horse racing wagering platform in the U.S.,, and we operate sports betting and iGaming through our BetAmerica platform in multiple states. We are also a leader in brick-and-mortar casino gaming with approximately 11,000 slot machines and video lottery terminals and 200 table games in eight states. Additional information about CDI can be found online at

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