Ashley LodatoBy Ashley Lodato
While Methow Valley residents were dusting off cowboy hats and baseball caps a week ago, four Methow ladies were packing their grandest hats in hatboxes and setting forth for Churchill Downs to attend the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks Thoroughbred races.

The trip, which was planned by childhood friends Delene Monetta and Lori Northcott to celebrate their 50th birthdays this year, also included Molly Patterson and Delene’s daughter, Danielle. Attending the Derby has been on Delene’s bucket list, and the whole experience was thrilling from start to finish.

A little bit of history here—the Derby and the Oaks are the oldest continuously contested sporting events, and the only horse races to be held at their original site since their inception. Both races have been run continuously since 1875 after being founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., grandson of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame).

Years of training are required for these races’ horses and jockeys, and the preparation for the 100,000 or so guests is nearly as demanding, due to the socially enforced dress codes for the two events. People are dressed to the nines, says Molly Patterson. “Even if you’re not interested in horses, you could just people-watch,” she says. “Hair, nails, outfits, hats—it’s just amazing to see what people put together.”

At the Oaks, guests are encouraged to “wear any color as long as it is pink,” a tradition that began six years ago when Churchill Downs began partnering with the nonprofit Bright Pink, which focuses on prevention and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women. After each Oaks event, Churchill Downs donates $50,000 to Bright Pink for education and support. The Methow ladies sported various shades of pink at the Oaks and looked absolutely stunning when posing near the lush rose and lily gardens at the venue.

Louisville was the picture of Southern hospitality for the western gals, with jazz bands playing in hotels, parades, and delicious Southern cuisine. One day the ladies took a bus out to the countryside to tour some stud farms and then they completed their Derby/Oaks prep by learning how to bet according to some complex formulas and rules (“Betting 101,” says Molly).

On Friday and Saturday, the race days, there were 12 races each day and the foursome spent from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the racetracks, running back and forth placing bets, and winning a little pocket change. The best part, says Molly, was watching the magnificent race horses, “just these beautiful creatures.” And being in good company, of course, which is generally the best bet of all.