Cody Dorman woke up at 2:32 a.m. Saturday and asked for the tablet he uses to communicate. He had something to say to his parents, Kelly and Leslie.
“He said ‘Thank you for taking me out here,’ ” Kelly Dorman said, standing outside the paddock at Santa Anita Park about an hour before the horse named for his son headed to the starting gate for the 16th and final time, carrying with him jockey Junior Alvarado and the hopes of a Kentucky teenager and seemingly the entire racing world.
The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile could provide a fairytale ending to a story that began just more than five years ago at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm in Lexington, Ky., when Danny Mulvihill brought out broodmare Dance Card and her son to meet the Dormans – there as part of a Make-A-Wish visit to the farm.
Mulvihill could have chosen any broodmare, and any young Thoroughbred. The bay 5-month-old son of Curlin could have stood and stared, have shied, done pretty much anything. He stepped toward the wheelchair-bound Cody – born with a debilitating genetic disease, Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome – and put his head on the boy’s lap. And thus began an inexplicable, yet undeniable connection between the boy and the horse.
Godolphin named its homebred after Cody, sent him to Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and watched him develop into one of his generation’s best.
Thursday in the Santa Anita stable area, Cody and Cody’s Wish met again with Mott helping the 17-year-old boy feed the 5-year-old horse a carrot. Friday night in the Dormans’ hotel room, Cody delivered the prediction his parents were waiting for: “He’s going to go out on top.”
It took the length of the stretch, but Alvarado and his mount caught National Treasure just before the wire, setting off a wild, emotional celebration that was quickly tempered when track announcer Frank Mirahmadi announced a dreaded inquiry.
After about five minutes that seemed like an eternity, the Santa Anita stewards ruled that Cody’s Wish did not cost National Treasure a placing. Queue up the celebration, Part 2.
“He’s never let us down,” said Michael Banahan, Godolphin USA director of bloodstock. “He has the will to win.”
That may only be outdone for his namesake’s will to live. Kelly Dorman reiterated what he and his wife have said countless times since the Thoroughbred world (and beyond) embraced their son.
“That horse probably saved Cody’s life,” he said. “And I know Cody and the horse have made a lot of lives better.”
Anyone at Saratoga for last year’s Forego Stakes, or Keeneland for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup, or Churchill Downs for the Churchill Downs Stakes in May, or Belmont Park for the Met Mile in June or at Santa Anita Saturday can relate.
“It’s special winning his last race for him,” said Alvarado, ostensibly talking about both the young man and the equine superstar. “I’m glad we got it done today.”
A second consecutive win in the Dirt Mile came thanks to a masterful ride. Starting his move heading into the far turn, Alvarado maneuvered Cody’s Wish between Charge It and Zozos. Cody’s Wish then stayed between Skippylongstocking and the frontrunning National Treasure in the stretch and outdueled the latter to the wire – face covered in mud.
The inquiry drama came about as a result of two instances of bumping between Flavien Prat aboard National Treasure and Alvarado on Cody’s Wish, though the stewards ruled it did not cost the runner-up a placing.
“The other horse came out first and he initiated contact and I knew once that happened I had at least one chance for me to get back at him,” Alvarado said. “I tried to keep him straight as much as I could. I knew it was nothing to change the outcome.”
It was the eighth win in the last nine races for Cody’s Wish, the only blip a third in the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga when Mott took an unsuccessful shot at stretching him out to 1 1/8 miles.
“This is probably one of the most memorable rides we’ve all been on,” said Mott, who won three of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races over the two days and has trained 15 Breeders’ Cup winners and received three Eclipse Awards as racing’s oustanding trainer of the year.
It’s a ride that was destined to end in the winner’s circle, with the Breeders’ Cup trophy on Cody’s lap and, for those fortunate enough to be there, a memory of a lifetime.