Best of The Special: Cody’s Wish gears up for Whitney

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Editors Note: We’re looking back at the 23rd year of The Special with some moments from the meet. You can find the complete editions from 2023 here.

Big Year: Cody’s Wish returns to Saratoga as favorite in two-turn Grade 1. By Paul Halloran. August 5 edition.
Cody’s Wish entered the 2022 Forego Stakes as an 8-1 longshot, the second choice among bettors but in reality simply considered as having the best chance to be the runner-up to Saratoga Race Course phenom Jackie’s Warrior.

Cody’s Wish (left) heads to the track with the stable pony Bugsy this summer at Saratoga.

And that would have been fine with his jockey.

“Heading into the race, I would have been happy to run second or third,” Junior Alvarado said. “Jackie’s Warrior was unbeatable up here.”

Alvarado, all smiles after winning Friday’s opener aboard Ludwig, was asked if he could have imagined less than a year later getting ready to ride the 1-2 morning line favorite in the 96th running of the Whitney Stakes.

“I actually thought about it,” Alvarado said. “It was just unbelievable being an underdog last year, and then this year, we’re the heavy favorite. I just think we knew the talent was there it was just a matter of time to put it all together and develop into where he is right now.”

Cody’s Wish resides at the top of the list of United States horses heading into today’s Whitney, where he will be out to record his seventh consecutive win and prolong racing’s most heartwarming story in recent memory.

The connection between Cody’s Wish and his namesake, Cody Dorman, a 17-year-old from Kentucky who suffers from a rare genetic disease and met the horse when he was a 5-month-old weanling, is inexplicable, yet undeniable. It’s what drew a crowd of more than three dozen to Bill Mott’s barn on the Oklahoma side Friday morning.

Cody is in town and he wanted to see his best friend.

Kelly and Leslie Dorman stationed their son’s wheelchair in front of the window of Cody’s Wish’s stall and, for several minutes, the two friends – one an equine superstar and the other the embodiment of courage and resilience – simply looked at each other. Cody’s little sister Kylie cozied up to the screened window and made sure the horse knew she is here to root him on as well.

“Perfect,” Kelly Dorman would say later at the track about their first trip to Saratoga. “We’ve been wanting to come here and we are so excited to be here for this race.”

After running down Jackie’s Warrior in the Forego, Cody’s Wish was trained up to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile by Hall of Famer Mott. There were questions as to whether he was a one-turn specialist, answered resoundingly when he closed from last to nail Cyberknife by a head at Keeneland.

Godolphin opted to bring Cody’s Wish back for a 5-year-old campaign and that decision is looking more prescient by the minute. Mott chose the Churchill Downs Stakes on the Kentucky Derby undercard for the 2023 debut and the son of Curlin delivered another last-to-first performance to win by 4 3/4 lengths.

Next was the Met Mile, a race Mott had never won. Cody’s Wish was again away slowly from the rail, leaving some serious work to do. Last after 4 furlongs, he made a move on the turn and was in the lead after 6 furlongs on the way to a 3 ¼-length win.

Mott and Godolphin decided to target the Whitney, run at 9 furlongs, a distance at which Cody’s Wish is 0-for-1.

“Look, we’ve watched him run. There’s a good indication he can do it. But you never know until they do it,” Mott said, after watching his star gallop a mile and three-eighths under Eddie Davis on a muddy Oklahoma track Friday morning.

Cody’s Wish will break from the far outside in the six-horse field, limiting the amount of time he is the starting gate, which can be seen as a positive development after he acted up before the Forego and Dirt Mile.

“I don’t think I want to do anything different,” Alvarado said. “I mean, he’s been amazing the way he’s been running, so I wouldn’t change anything. Hopefully he’ll run the same way he’s been running.”

The main competition figures to come from the inside, with the ultra-consistent Zandon breaking from the rail and Suburban winner Charge It to his immediate right. Both of their  trainers know everything will have to fall into place if they are to add to Saratoga’s legacy of beaten favorites in marquee races.

“Well, Cody’s Wish is going to have to not be quite at his best at this mile-and-an-eighth, two-turn trip, and we’re going to have to step up and run as good as we did, I’d say, in the Derby last year. I think that’s what it will take,” said Chad Brown, who saddled Zandon to a third in last year’s Kentucky Derby and a second behind Cody’s Wish in the Met Mile.

Todd Pletcher, who trains Charge It, offered a similar prognosis. “Tall order. Very, very good horse,” he said of the favorite. “So we’ll need everything to go our way.”

That may or may not be enough the way Cody’s Wish has run and the way he looks. But, there’s a reason they run the races and this is, after all, Saratoga.

“We’ve got over 24 hours to the race, so now it’s just like driving defensively on the turnpike, you know what I mean?” Mott said. “You just have to be careful.”

Alvarado, who felt extreme pressure to win the Dirt Mile, especially with Cody in attendance at Keeneland, will be navigating the Saratoga oval with the highest level of confidence. 

“I think I’m riding the best horse,” he said. “I cannot try chasing the race or doing anything different. I’m just going to ride my horse. I think I have the best horse, so I just have to ride him that way.”

Alvarado, who signed prints of Cody’s Wish at the Secretariat stand outside the jockey silks room – and was thrilled to have Cody sign one for him – is genuinely pleased to be along for this ride with the Dormans.

“I’m excited for everything that’s happening with the horse and Cody Dorman,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get this race done and win the race and we can keep celebrating with them. That’s what I want to do.”

That would be just fine with Cody, who, his parents said, started laughing when they passed a sign for Saratoga on the way down from Niagara Falls Thursday. He had a front-row seat on the Oklahoma rail as his favorite horse galloped.

Mott was fully aware that this was far from an ordinary gallop, but he was happy to oblige, bringing Cody’s Wish over to Cody’s wheelchair as the horse cooled out.

“It’s not your normal day, but it’s not a normal horse and it’s not a normal situation,” he said. “It’s special. It’s extra special, and everybody’s anxious, and I think there’s a lot of people that are rooting for a good outcome. We have to remember it’s still a horse race, and they’ve got to go around there. The race isn’t over yet. It’s a great lead-up to the race. Things have gone well, but the race is not won. They’ve got to load them in the gate, and that part of it has to go well.”

One statistic you won’t find in the Daily Racing Form, on Thoro-Graph or anywhere else: Cody has seen Cody’s Wish run in person five times. Cody’s Wish has won every time.

Giant Game, Last Samurai and White Abarrio complete the field for the Whitney, which goes as Race 10 at 5:42 p.m. and will be televised live nationally on Fox.