After all the pre-race hoopla, the national TV interviews, another scintillating performance by a horse who is tough to beat under any circumstances and thus far impossible when his namesake is on track, and a champagne toast in the Director’s Room, Kelly Dorman pushed his son, Cody, back to their table in the First Turn Dining Room at Churchill Downs Saturday and turned to a friend.
“How about that?” he said.
How about it indeed.
The story of the inexplicable yet undeniable connection between Cody Dorman, a 17-year-old from Richmond, Ky. born with a frequently fatal genetic condition (Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome), and Cody’s Wish, a Godolphin-owned horse who matches Cody’s grit and fighting spirit, began to reverberate after the horse upset 1-9 favorite Jackie’s Warrior in the Forego Stakes at Saratoga on Travers Day last summer.
The story exploded when Cody’s Wish won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland in November, with Cody and his family cheering from the winner’s circle. That was four years after the two met at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm, when farm manager Danny Mulvihill brought a mare and her foal out of the stall to meet a boy there as part of the annual Make A Wish Day at Keeneland.
That led to Godolphin, at the suggestion of office manager Mary Bourne, naming the horse for Cody and the organization that does magical work bringing smiles to the faces of children who need and deserve it. Cody and Cody’s Wish have met several times since, typically in the winner’s circle, where the Dormans – Kelly, mom Leslie, Cody and Little Sister of the Decade Kylie – have become accustomed to watching the race and posing for the win photo.
Saturday, on the biggest stage yet, with 150,335 fans watching from beneath the twin spires and the world watching on TV and the internet, the fairytale continued.
Breaking from the same seven post he had in the Breeders’ Cup, Cody’s Wish was last of nine after a quarter-mile in :22.70. Junior Alvarado had him seventh after a half in :45.19, leaving the 3-5 favorite work to do over the final three-eighths of the Grade 1 Churchill Downs Handicap.
Alvarado was asked after the race if he were concerned.
“Never,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. Like I was at the Breeders’ Cup. I don’t know if it was feeling how good he was moving underneath me, but I was very confident with him. When we started picking it up, it was just a matter of time. I knew what was going to happen and he did it.”
By the time they turned for home, Alvarado and Cody’s Wish were looming on the outside. They took the lead at eighth pole and cruised to a 4 ¾-length win over Hoist The Gold, Tejano Twist and pacesetter Here Mi Song. The final time was 1:21.17.
Cody’s Wish, never off the board, improved to 8-for-12 lifetime – and 5-for-5 when Cody is on hand – increasing his career earnings to $1,778,530. By Curlin out of the Tapit mare Dance Card, the 5-year-old will likely be pointed to the Met Mile on the Belmont Stakes undercard June 10. Whoever lines up against him will have their hands full.
“I don’t even know how to describe how much better he got today,” Alvarado said. “What I felt today is what you want to feel when you ride horses in big races, to feel the whole machine underneath you. Today, he was just a lovely animal to ride. He was there with me every step of the way. When I asked him, he didn’t hold anything back, he just went by those horses.”
In the winner’s circle, the tears flowed, and not just from people named Dorman. The magnitude of the moment was not lost on trainer Bill Mott.
“With this horse winning, it’s really way more than a horse race,” Mott said. “For us, Cody Dorman and Cody’s Wish make it something special. When this horse came back after the race, and hearing the crowd, they were going crazy up there, more than they normally cheer for any other race. And the horse is just so great. He’s been showing up every time. He’s been off since the Breeders’ Cup, but it sure looked like he was ready today.”
Credit for that goes to Mott and his team, led by Kenny McCarthy, who oversees the string at Churchill, and Penny Gardner, who has developed a close relationship with the Dormans.
“I get choked up easily, but when he was walking over, my assistant Kenny said he paused, and he looked, and he said it was like there is a connection there,” Mott said, referring to McCarthy stopping with the horse at the rail where Cody was sitting, allowing for two old friends to renew acquaintances. “Usually we don’t see that in horses. For whatever reason, the horse knows something is special.”
So does his jockey.
“This is what I love to do with this horse to keep the great story going,” Alvarado said. “It helps me to keep my feet on the ground every day. I’m just very grateful to be a part of this. It’s unreal, to be honest.”
It certainly strains credulity, but when you experience it, especially up close, it is very real, and downright powerful.
DERBY DOINGS: One of the foes vanquished by Cody’s Wish was his half-brother, Endorsed, also out of Dance Card, who finished eighth. “I talked to Dance Card and told her, ‘Now this is up to you to settle among your boys,’ ” Mulvihill joked . . . Godolphin got the stakes portion of the 14-race card started by winning the Derby City Distaff with home-bred Matareya, trained by Brad Cox and ridden by Flavien Prat. She upset Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint champ Goodnight Olive, who ran third, behind Wicked Halo . . . New York-bred Grade 1-winning turf filly Spendarella was upset by Chad Brown’s Fluffy Socks in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile . . . Javier Castellano warmed up for his Kentucky Derby triumph by piloting Mark Casse’s Webslinger to a win in the American Turf at odds of 22-1 . . . The Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic served as a reminder of the ups and downs of horse racing, as trainer Todd Pletcher, owners Mike Repole and Vinnie Viola and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. teamed up to win the Grade 1 race with Up To The Mark after the scratch of their Derby favorite Forte.