Hours earlier, her family had worried if she had enough strength to make the rounds at Churchill.
"They took a girl who was feeling so bad. That was pretty much the thrill of the day right there," her father said.
Asked later what was going through her mind as she sat atop the former champion, she replied, "Holy Cow."
Hope had been on horses at her aunt and uncle's place, but that was before her health took a turn for the worse.
"My heart was pounding through my chest," her father, Nathan Hudson, confessed later. "I didn't know exactly what the horse was going to do. But he was a complete champ. I think he enjoyed it as much as she did."
Later in the week, Hope and her parents and younger sister toured horse farms, visited the jockeys' room at Churchill before the Kentucky Oaks and met Kendall Hansen, owner of his namesake Derby colt Hansen, for dinner. She collected autographs and photographs. One prized keepsake was a horseshoe worn by Hansen when the white colt won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November at Churchill Downs.
"I gave her one of my final two shoes that Hansen wore" in the race, said Kendall Hansen, who called Hope "a super fan and a sweet girl."
Hansen was her favorite horse heading into the Derby, and she couldn't be swayed, even when chatting with a trio of trainers who had their own Derby entries — Lukas, Motion and O'Neill.
"She didn't care about that, she stuck to her guns," Clay said. "All the trainers respected her convictions."
Each evening, Hope and her family spent time chatting with O'Neill and his team. Finally, Hope told O'Neill that if Hansen was out of contention, she'd switch her allegiance to his colt. And that's how it played out as the seventh-grader cheered on I'll Have Another.
Now back home in Missouri, the family is still soaking in the storybook relationship with O'Neill and his team.
"It's amazing how he just kind of took me under his wing," Hope said
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