March 2, 2024

It started with a moment of trepidation but finished with a tear-streaked story about a boy and a horse, a fable come to life, and the validation of the bond between man and beast.

In all the years that Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm has played a part in Keeneland’s annual Make-a-Wish event, there had never been a participant who was in a wheelchair until a crisp Kentucky morning in October 2018.

“It was certainly a first for me,” said Danny Mulvihill, farm manager at Gainsborough. “Hasn’t been one since. My biggest thing is how am I going to do something safe and get a horse close enough to Cody so he can be up close and personal with a horse.”

Cody is Cody Dorman, a then 12-year-old who wasn’t supposed to live past 2. He was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a genetic condition that can leave a person without the ability to walk or communicate.

Mulvihill gave the encounter a lot of thought and settled on an unnamed horse that was still considered a foal because he hadn’t been weaned from his mother, a mare named Dance Card.

“With foals being jittery, [Danny] didn’t know how they would react to [a wheelchair],” said Kelly Dorman, Cody’s father. “So, we kept a little bit of distance. But when he brought Dance Card out, it almost instantly felt as if something was different about the mare and the foal. They were really laid back, and curious a little bit, I guess.”

Mulvihill, still nervous, picks up the encounter.

“The foal just came out and took a look at the wheelchair and Cody, and took a second look and inched closer and never gave us a cause for concern. And he just kept inching closer until his nose was right there. He was nuzzling Cody’s hand and then his head went into Cody’s lap.”

Everyone went silent, unable to put words into what they just saw. Mulvihill was feeling something else.

“It was a sense of relief at first because what we hoped would happen, did,” Mulvihill said. “Then the family finished the tour and went to Keeneland. On that day itself we had no idea, zero idea, what would happen because that was all scripted by someone far, far more powerful than any one of us.

“Every part of this story has come together and fallen into place from the word go and could have gone several different directions at any one time. But for everything to keep lining up and ending up where it has now, you cannot script that. You cannot write this kind of stuff.”

Where is it now? That horse was given the name Cody’s Wish and will be running his last race Saturday in the Dirt Mile at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. Along the way, he has won 10 of 15 races, including six graded stakes, three of which were Grade 1, the most prestigious of races. He’s the defending champion of last year’s Dirt Mile and is the presumptive favorite on Saturday.

Yet the tale of Cody, the horse, and Cody, the boy, is not about horse racing but about the strength and courage that people and animals get from each other.

Fast forward two years from their first meeting. As a yearling, the horse had been named Cody’s Wish at the suggestion of Mary Bourne, the office manager at Gainsborough, who had stayed in touch with the Korman family. Cody, though, was struggling at home.

“It was 2020 when Kelly called and asked if they could come out and see the horse again because Cody was going through a tough time,” Mulvihill said. “That gave him such joy when he met the foal the first time that this might be something that would perk him up a little bit.

“The horse was a full 2-year-old in training. A full horse full of vim and vigor and they brought Cody up. The real concern that day is that Johnny [Burke], our trainer, would be able to get the horse anywhere close to Cody, because obviously he’s a full-size horse now and very, very fit and in training.

“Johnny’s exact words to me when he came out is, ‘That horse remembered who he was.’ Once again, he pulled him, pulled him, pulled him forward and he was right there in front of Cody again and nuzzling his hand.”

Cody's Wish, with jockey Junior Alvarado aboard, crosses the finish line to win The Hill N' Dale Metropolitan.

Cody’s Wish, with jockey Junior Alvarado aboard, crosses the finish line to win The Hill N’ Dale Metropolitan at Belmont Park on June 10.

(Mary Altaffer / Associated Press)

Many can remember the viral video of Christian the lion being reunited two years after the two Australians who raised him as a cub released him into the wild. The two decided to locate Christian and incredibly found him. Christian came running not with the danger you might expect between a lion and a person but with a memory and recognition that brought tears worldwide.

The lion “came running and almost knocked them over,” Mulvihill said with a laugh.

“Everybody who has touched a horse has these relationships,” he said. “You form a bond through daily, weekly, monthly connections, spending time with the horse. This was something that was formed from an encounter that lasted, maybe five minutes. And after two years, the horse knew that Cody was there to see him.”

There was never an expectation that Cody’s Wish would be the talented colt he became, despite having high-performing stallion Curlin as his father. The colt was placed in the care of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, no doubt a big advantage.

“Bill Mott pulled me up after he won at Churchill and asked me, ‘Did you know?’” Mulvihill said.

“‘Did I know what?’

“’Did you know this horse was going to be this good?’

“I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ We hope that every horse that we foal every year is going to be this good, that’s our hope and dreams for every one of them. But very few can reach the heights that this horse has reached. Very, very few of them.”

Cody’s Wish remained under the radar of non-horse racing media until he won the Forego Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 28 of last year, his sixth win in seven races.

“That’s when the story started really snowballing,” Kelly Dorman said. “We started getting a lot of calls and stuff, the media and interviews and things like that. But it was the first day of the Breeders’ Cup last year, at Keeneland, that the magnitude of how far it reached really sunk in. There were so many people just coming up, telling us how much the story has meant to them, meant to us, or meant to them.

Dorman paused for a moment to collect himself.

“I’m sorry. Most of them teared up and [said they were] really impacted by this.”

Cody showed up at a few of Cody Wish’s races, most notably at the Breeders’ Cup, where cameras outnumbered the horse’s connections. The story had gone national.

Cody’s Wish, known for his less-than-speedy starts, had to rally late and just beat Cyberknife at the wire by a head at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile as NBC race caller Larry Collmus intoned, “That’s one for you, Cody.”

“I think it resonates with a lot of people,” said Randy Moss, a horse racing analyst for NBC. “We like to say a certain human-interest story transcends the sport and other sports fans in general like it. In this case, you don’t have to be a sports fan. It’s human interest at its most elemental.”

The scene in the Winner’s Circle was predictably chaotic, exhilarating and emotional. A tear rolled down Cody’s face.

“First and foremost, [I have to thank] Cody’s Wish for doing all of this,” Kelly Dorman said last week. “He kind of came out of left field on us. It was unexpected. It has inspired not only Cody and us, but it certainly rates around the world to a lot of places. It’s helped him physically, mentally. We’re [just] really proud of him, the work he’s done, and the effort he’s put into all this.”

Cody’s parents say that he is doing very well, better than they could have hoped almost 16 years after doctors said he would die. In fact, he attended his high school prom this year.

On Thursday at Santa Anita, Cody will meet Carson Jost, who at 31 also has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome and has defied life expectancy odds. And, he also has a horse named after him, Carson’s Run, who will race in Friday’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. The race is for 2-year-olds and will be Carson’s Run’s fourth lifetime race. He’s won two of three.

Cody Dorman looks over at jockey Junior Alvarado after Cody's Wish wins the G1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

Cody Dorman looks over at jockey Junior Alvarado after Cody’s Wish wins the G1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland Race Course in November 2022.

(Horsephotos / Getty Images)

The horse is owned by West Point Thoroughbreds’ main partner Terry Finley, who was a classmate of Wade Yost at the U.S. Military Academy. Carson is Wade’s son.

“Kelly tells me they have only ever met two or three families of people with this condition,” Mulvihill said. “The families that both horses have been named after have been in contact and they congratulate each other after these horses win. This is what it’s done — it’s expanded their world immeasurably.”

The Dorman family hopes the presence of Cody at Cody’s Wish’s last race will make a difference.

“Maybe, with Cody being there, it’ll give him a little extra motivation,” Kelly Dorman said. “In the past, it seemed like it’s helped. I don’t know, they seem like those two speak some type of language. You can’t hear it, but you can certainly feel it and see it.”

And as for Cody’s Wish’s next career, it’s very likely that Cody’s name will not disappear.

“The beauty of it is when Cody’s Wish becomes a stallion, there are going to be a bunch of little horses running around in two years and they are going to be named Cody this and Cody that,” Mulvihill said. “His name is going to be all over the racing and thoroughbred world for a long, long time to come.”

Maybe there will even be a horse named Cody’s Legacy.

Correspondent Mike Tierney contributed to this report.

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