Sendoff for a champion

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Cody Dorman was given the sendoff he richly deserved last week in Columbia, Kentucky.

Churchill Downs bugler Steve Buttleman, dressed in his race-day uniform – red jacket, white pants, shiny black boots – stood on the grass at Haven Hill cemetery in Columbia, Ky., Friday, a crisp, fall day on which morning rain had given way to afternoon sunshine and blue skies.

Buttleman raised the bugle to his mouth and out came the Call to Post, which is typically played to signal that the next race is upon us. On this day, the 34 notes – all in the key of C, no sharps, no flats – were played as Cody Dorman was brought to his final resting place.

Dan Pride and Danny Mulvihill of Godolphin were two of pallbearers entrusted with carrying the casket covered with the garland of flowers from last weekend’s Breeders’ Cup and containing the 17-year-old young man whose inexplicable yet undeniable connection to the racehorse bearing his name has captivated the hearts of seemingly the entire Thoroughbred racing community and beyond.

Wearing a blue suit and matching scally cap, Cody had in his hands a symbol of his best friend’s final victory: a $2 win ticket on Cody’s Wish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Six days earlier, Cody’s Wish capped his career with a second straight Breeders’ Cup win. The following day, Cody, too, went out on top.

On Thursday and Friday, in the southern Kentucky town where his parents, Leslie and Kelly, grew up, Cody was given the sendoff he so richly deserved.

Hundreds of mourners came from subsets that claimed Cody as one of their own: horse racing, fishing, bikers, Future Farmers of America, teachers, doctors – they were all there to say goodbye to Cody and let his parents and little sister, Kylie, know how much Cody was loved and how much they are loved and respected.

Caring for Cody was the epitome of a 24/7/365 job, though the Dormans never made it seem like work. Befitting their upbringing as humble, hard-working, do-what-it-takes people, they simply rolled up their sleeves and accepted their mission, helping their severely disabled son live his absolute best life.

That life was celebrated during an hour-long memorial service at 3trees Church in Russell Springs, after a six-hour visitation Thursday and three more hours Friday morning. The horse racing world was well represented: Michael Banahan, along with Pride, Mulvihill, Mary Bourne and others from Godolphin; Breeders’ Cup CEO Drew Fleming; NBC producer and Santa Anita VP Amy Zimmerman; trainer Bill Mott, assistant Penny Gardiner and jockey agent Mike Sellitto.

Pastors Drew Hayes and Paul Patton offered prayers and inspirational words, while Faith Hacker of Make-A-Wish and Godolphin’s Mulvihill provided personal reflections of their experiences with Cody.

“The impact Cody has had is a perfect example of the power of a wish,” Hacker said. The Dormans requested donations be made to Make-A-Wish in Cody’s memory and, as of Friday night, almost $45,000 had been raised.

Mulvihill, who introduced Cody to the  5-month-old Cody’s Wish five years ago, before the horse had a name, spoke of witnessing the interactions between Cody and Cody’s Wish. “They took your breath away every time.”

“You cannot choose your family,” Mulvihill said. “Kelly, Leslie, Kylie, you’re stuck with us. You will be part of the Godolphin family forever.”

At the cemetery after the service, Buttleman played “My Old Kentucky Home,” the song that greets the horses as they enter the track for the Kentucky Derby – and prompts thousands to reach for a tissue.

Typically a pre-race anthem, Friday it signified the end of an 18-year race, one that was run – and won – by a truly great champion.