The email came in from Tom Law at 9:34 a.m. on Travers Day with the day’s writing assignments. I drew the Forego and, for the second year in a row, the Sword Dancer. It seemed simple enough. Jackie’s Warrior was a heavy favorite and very likely winner in the Forego and I had plenty of background, having covered the Saratoga Special Stakes when he won it as a 2-year-old in 2020.
I had previewed the Sword Dancer for the Saturday edition, watching Gufo train at 6:30 a.m. Friday, the day before he would win the Grade 1 turf stakes for the second straight year. Later that morning, I was on the phone with Aidan O’Brien, who has now won 16 Breeders’ Cup races but still looking for his first at Saratoga after Broome ran fourth in this year’s Sword Dancer.
Jackie’s Warrior went to the lead as expected in the Forego, but he was softened up by Pipeline and overtaken late in the stretch by a fast-closing Cody’s Wish, an 8-1 longshot. With our next edition not for four days, there was plenty of time to delve deeper into the story behind this son of Curlin and the young man for whom he is named, and whom horse racing has collectively adopted.
I caught up with Michael Banahan, Godolphin USA director of bloodstock, in the winner’s circle and later in the paddock. He connected me with Mary Bourne at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm, where Cody’s Wish – and, as it turns out, this too-good-to-be-true-but-it-is story – was born.
The story that has become a worldwide phenomenon started coming into focus. During a phone conversation with Kelly Dorman, I learned that his son, Cody, was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, a rare genetic disease which can cause congenital heart defects, intellectual disability, seizures and delayed growth and development. Kelly told me that Cody spent the first 12 days of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit. He had two heart surgeries by the time he was 5 weeks old. One doctor told Kelly and his wife, Leslie, that Cody probably wouldn’t make it to his second birthday.
By now, you have undoubtedly heard how Cody was introduced to a foal at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm in 2018 as part of the Make-A-Wish program. How that colt was eventually named for him, at the suggestion of Bourne. How when Cody was severely depressed during the Covid lockdown a visit with his horse got him laughing. How Cody watched Cody’s Wish win a maiden, allowance and stakes at Churchill Downs before the Forego.
Anyone with a beating heart would be smitten with the Cody’s Wish story. As the parent of a 23-year-old with autism, it hit home – literally. I asked Kelly if Cody would be willing to answer a few questions, and an interview was set up.
“He’s my buddy,” Cody said, through the tablet he uses to communicate. “I love him. He gives me so much motivation.”
The video Kelly sent me of Cody responding to the questions will remain with me as long as Apple and Verizon will store it. A video was sent back with my Martha introducing herself to Cody. And another one with her riding a horse.
“That made Cody smile. That’s so cool,” Kelly Dorman wrote.
Kelly sent back a video of Cody telling Martha a joke: “What day do fish hate? Fryday.”
A Saratoga Special – the newspaper, not the stakes – hat was placed in the mail for Cody. Kelly sent back a video of Cody smiling when he showed him the hat and accompanying note, and, the next day, a photo of Cody proudly wearing it. Special indeed.
At that time the Cody’s Wish story was known in racing circles, but nothing like the blockbuster it has become, culminated by a Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile win with the entire equine universe looking on, cheering – and crying.
“The wish has come true. That one’s for you, Cody,” is how Larry Collmus memorialized the moment on the NBC broadcast, in one of the most poignant race-ending calls ever.
They draped the garland of flowers across Cody’s lap in the winner’s circle and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – including the two in my head as I watched from Aqueduct. Cody and his horse were international stars and those of us lucky enough to have already climbed aboard were happy to be joined in the saddle.
When news broke that Cody Dorman was chosen as this year’s winner of the Big Sport of Turfdom Award, which was presented Tuesday at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program Global Symposium on Racing, and Cody’s Wish won the Secretariat Vox Populi Award, it meant we didn’t need to yet wake up from this dream of a story. And, with Godolphin planning to run the horse as a 5-year-old next year, who knows how great the sequel could be?