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A horse named Hope
Darrin Paul knew the filly was special from the start.
Bought at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owner's Association Yearling Sale in 2008, Cathy Z's Hope, or simply Hope, however, would prove to be more than special.
Despite a shortened three-session career on the track at Emerald Downs, Hope would become one of the most inspirational horses ever to race at the Auburn track.
"This one has an amazing story," Paul said.
Paul, a breeder and owner based in Bothell, bought Hope less than a year after his mother-in-law, Catherine Zoe DeMatteis, lost her 10-year battle with ovarian cancer and died on June 10, 2007.
"I thought it might be a good idea to name the horse after her," Paul said of DeMatteis, the mother of Paul's wife, Tracie. "And hope is the slogan or mantra of the Ovarian Cancer Foundation. We decided we would donate a portion of her earnings to the Marsha Rivkin Center (for Ovarian Cancer Research in Seattle)."
Initially, Hope – trained by Frank Lucarelli – appeared ready to make a splash at the track.
"Then in 2009 during training, she developed pleuropneumonia and a collapsed lung," Paul said. "She was given a very slim prognosis to survive."
Hope was moved from Paul's ranch to the Pilchuck Veterinary Equine Hospital in Snohomish and placed under the care of Dr. Wendy Mollat to treat the life-threatening inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs.
"The doctors gave her a 50-50 chance," Paul said. "It was a difficult time. Here was this symbol of my wife's mother that was going to help us with the healing process. I felt like the biggest schmuck. Why couldn't I have named her Spot or something?"
Hope proved resilient, and on April 21 – DeMatteis' birthday – Paul got good news.
"She took a turn for the better," he said. "It was a 60-day process to get her better, and after the Fourth of July she came back and resumed the normal life of a horse."
Initially, Paul said, he didn't think Hope would ever be able to race.
"I figured she wouldn't be good for racing because of the collapsed lung but that she would potentially make a good brood mare," Paul said.
Despite his doubts, however, Paul turned Hope over to Lucarelli to prepare her for the track.
"We just took it slow," Paul said. "I kept expecting the call that she wasn't going to make it. But she loved it. She loved to run. She would drag the riders to the track."
In June 2010 Hope took to the track for the first time, three years after the death of her namesake.
"It's pretty amazing that she had the perseverance to fight through and live," Paul said. "It was a victory of sorts for her just to have her on the track and racing."
In her first outing, Hope ran a strong race, finishing third.
Then Paul and Lucarelli decided to start running the horse in mile events.
"It was amazing because when we started running her a mile in her next 12 of 14 races, she ran second or better," Paul said. "She's the only horse that I'm aware of that has come back from something like that and raced."
Before Hope's retirement last season, Paul said he invited some of DeMatteis' family and friends down to watch her run.
"We also had some of the people from the Rivkin Center come down and watch," Paul said. "There was a lot of energy around. She ended up winning. It was a very special and emotional time for a lot of people."
Now Hope is retired and set to produce the next generation of Thoroughbreds.
"She's actually in foal to Stevie Wonderboy, the winner of the 2005 Breeders' Cup Juvenile," Paul said.
He added that any offspring of Hope that make it to the track will also race to raise money for the Rivkin Center.
"It was just such a wonderful experience, we've pledged that we'll continue it," Paul said. "We never could have imagined the heartfelt parallels with Cathy and Hope's unrelenting will to live. None of us thought she would ever race with all the lung damage she had, but sometimes the unexplained reinforces the faith to never give up."