Godolphin recently released a short documentary telling the story of a very special bond between an exceptional boy, Cody Dorman, and his racetrack namesake, Cody’s Wish.
The approximately 12-minute video tells the emotional story from the start at a Make-A-Wish event at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm in Versailles through the Breeders’ Cup World Championships last month at Keeneland.
The Saratoga Special’s Paul Halloran wrote about Cody Dorman and his family in his piece titled “Fairytale” that appeared in the Aug. 31 issue. Check out Paul’s story below.
Cody’s Wish delivers emotional upset for namesake in Gr. 1
By Paul Halloran
The announced crowd of just under 50,000 made plenty of noise as Cody’s Wish roared down the Saratoga stretch in the Forego Stakes Saturday, but Kelly Dorman isn’t sure they were much louder than the commotion in his house in Richmond, Ky.
“I told Danny (Pride, of Godolphin USA), I should probably check the drywall and make sure all the windows are still there,” Dorman said. “It got pretty rowdy here.”
Cody Dorman isn’t able to verbalize his emotions, but the look on his face as he watched his namesake overtake 1-9 favorite Jackie’s Warrior spoke volumes, according to his father.
“During the race, Cody was holding his sign and a No. 5 saddle cloth that he got at Churchill last fall,” Kelly Dorman said, the same number Cody’s Wish wore Saturday.
Cody made the sign in a therapy session last Thursday, a good-luck wish for his favorite horse. Cody, who communicates through a tablet, had told his parents Saturday morning that Cody’s Wish would win Saturday, but only if the horse saw the sign.
“Bill (Mott) had it on his phone and he showed the horse before the race,” said Michael Banahan, Godolphin USA director of bloodstock. “It’s a fantastic story, like Disney.”
Disney produced the movie “Miracle” and Saturday Cody’s Wish proved to be the equine equivalent of Mike Eruzione and his 1980 USA hockey teammates. Jackie’s Warrior looked unbeatable on paper, having won 12 of 16 starts while becoming the first horse to win a Grade 1 in three consecutive years at Saratoga with a score in the A.G. Vanderbilt Stakes July 30 (to go with the 2020 Hopeful and 2021 H. Allen Jerkens).
“We were coming in knowing we were running against a champion in Jackie’s Warrior,” Banahan said. “He’s a superstar horse, but our horse deserved a chance at the Grade 1 level. He’s progressed each race he’s run. We felt like there was more in the tank as well.”
The son of Curlin out of the Tapit mare Dance Card had plenty left under Junior Alvarado Saturday, coming from sixth after a :45.10 half-mile in which Pipeline harangued Jackie’s Warrior every step of the way and getting by the 2021 champion male sprinter to win by 1 1/4 lengths in a brisk 1:20.95 for 7 furlongs. Pipeline held on for third.
“We weren’t coming in here thinking we were going to win,” Banahan said. “We thought if he ran a good second it would be a good run for him, and if that horse stubs his toe or something, we were going to be there to pick up some pieces. He’s progressively gotten better and better. We were happy having him in here and taking that chance.”
And why wouldn’t Godolphin and Mott be willing to roll the dice with a horse who had won five of nine lifetime and has a stable’s worth of intangibles on his side?
“Four years ago we never dreamed we’d be sitting in a situation like this,” Kelly Dorman said.
How could they?
Cody was born Dec. 18, 2005 with Wolf-Hirschhorn Syndrome, a rare genetic disease which can cause congenital heart defects, intellectual disability, seizures and delayed growth and development. He spent the first 12 days of his life in the neonatal intensive care unit at Central Baptist Hospital (now Baptist Health) in Lexington. 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.
That physician might have been interested to see Cody watching Cody’s Wish become a Grade 1 winner.
“I knew he would win,” Cody told his dad, through his tablet, in response to a few questions from The Special. “I’m proud of him. I had no doubt about what he was going to do.”
Cody, who is wheelchair-bound, was asked about the unlikely bond he has developed with a horse he met for the first time Oct. 11, 2018, when a foal and mare were brought out of a stall at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm in Versailles to meet him as part of a Make-A-Wish event sponsored by Keeneland.
“He’s my buddy,” he said. “I love him. He gives me so much motivation.”
Those who were privileged to witness that first encounter were touched.
“The foal went right over and put his head in Cody’s lap,” said Mary Bourne, office manager at Gainsborough, who coordinates the farm’s participation in the annual Make-A-Wish day. “You could see there was a connection. It was a special moment on a special day, but none of us had any idea it was going to turn into this.”
The immediate bond was obvious to Cody’s parents.
“We all got quiet and took in the moment,” Kelly said. “My wife and I grew up on farms and we can’t put into words what we saw that day. There was nothing planned or fabricated. They had brought out four of five mares and foals and the Dance Card foal kept creeping up to Cody.”
When it came time to name the horse, Bourne suggested Cody’s Wish and Cody’s Dream, along with a third name she could not recall. The first choice was approved.
“We were flattered,” Kelly said, and if the story had ended there the family would have been thrilled.
“If that horse had never set foot on the racetrack, he had already done more for us then we could ask,” Kelly said. “From the first time they met, it was like he was saying to Cody, ‘Hey, bud, you and I are going to be friends. I’m not going to let you down.’ It means the world to us to see the fulfillment and happiness he’s put in his heart.”
A true friend is there when you need him most and Cody’s Wish was there when Cody was battling depression from the death of his grandfather, Lester Spoon, in February 2019 and the lockdown necessitated by the pandemic in 2020.
“It was a dark time for Cody,” his dad said. “With everything we have been dealing with since he was born – dozens of surgeries, two strokes, thousands of seizures – that was the hardest thing when he started getting depressed.”
Kelly and Leslie figured if anything could snap their son, whom they said has received excellent care at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, out of the doldrums, maybe a reunion with “his” horse could do the trick. They called Bourne and set up a visit, but in the fall of 2020 Cody’s Wish was an unraced 2-year-old with appreciably more energy than the gentle foal Cody first encountered.
“He was full of vim and vigor, not like when he was a foal,” Banahan said. “We wanted to be careful and make sure Cody would be safe.”
The Dormans were content to keep their distance, as recommended, but Cody’s Wish had other ideas, acting like any of us would upon seeing a good friend after two years apart.
“They brought the horse out and it took my breath away. I didn’t realize he was that big,” Kelly said. “They said he could be rowdy, but he looked at Cody and never took his eyes off of him. He never got aggressive. He let Cody rub his nose.”
And then something happened that truly caught the parents off-guard: Cody laughed.
“Cody doesn’t show a lot of instant emotion,” said Kelly, noting that Cody has the “best little sister in the world” in 8-year-old Kylie. “He started laughing out loud with a deep belly laugh. I can count on one hand the number of times that has happened. Seeing that horse put the fire back in his belly.”
Cody’s Wish did not debut until June of his 3-year-old season, running a troubled-trip third in a maiden special weight at Belmont Park.
“After the race, my wife said the horse ran the way Cody has lived his life, with no quit,” Kelly said. “That’s the way Cody has always been.”
The horse failed to break his maiden in two tries at Saratoga last summer, finishing behind Pipeline, the colt who would play a role in the Forego win, both times, but Cody had an explanation for that.
“He told my wife the horse wouldn’t win until he was there,” Kelly said.
That happened Oct. 2 when the Godolphin homebred won a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs. He won two allowance races to close out the year, with Cody in attendance for one of them.
Cody’s Wish started his 2022 campaign with a second in the Grade 3 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs in March, a loss predicted by Cody. “He kept saying, ‘He’s not ready. He’s going to finish second,’ ” Kelly said. “I don’t question it. I’m just happy to be enjoying a front-row seat for it.”
Mott sent out Cody’s Wish to win the Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont May 7 and was considering running him in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day, but a fever a few weeks before the race nixed that idea. He sent him back to Churchill for the Hanshin Stakes July 4 and the colt won by a neck with Cody cheering him on. That led the connections to take on Jackie’s Warrior in the Forego, while sending their other accomplished sprinter, Speaker’s Corner, to Del Mar to run in the Pat O’Brien Stakes Saturday, where he finished fourth.
“We were hoping that the scenario that played out would play out,” Banahan said of the Forego. “We knew there was a bit of speed in the race. We weren’t too sure anyone would take on Jackie’s Warrior, but we were hoping someone would and maybe soften him up a little bit. He’s a champion racehorse. To be able to run him down proved that our horse is in that elite league as well.”
Their horse is named for a champion human, someone who has beaten the longest of odds and is deriving incalculable enjoyment from a relationship with a four-legged friend.
“I don’t know how Cody would be doing right now if it wasn’t for Cody’s Wish,” Leslie Dorman said. “He’s living his best life.”
And, whether he realizes it or not, teaching the rest of us how to live.
“If everyone looked at the world the way he does, it would be a better place,” Kelly said. “It’s a good story at a good time. I hope it puts a lot of smiles on a lot of people’s faces.”
To go with the tears of joy.