Poignant end to Breeders’ Cup winner’s racing career with the passing of Cody Dorman

Every sport has tear-jerking stories that become part of its folklore, and horse racing is no exception, from Seabiscuit in the USA to Desert Orchid in the UK to Winx in Australia. But the story behind Cody’s Wish, who ran the last race of his illustrious career last month before going out to stud, deserves a place among them, and will surely be the subject of books and movies in the years to come. 

What’s in a name?

Naming a racehorse is a more complex business than you might think. There are various rules, including the number of letters and various prohibitions, including names of living people or racetracks, profanities and so on. Sometimes, the names can be bizarre or obscure or very, very clever – Potoooooooo (pronounced “Potatoes”) is a classic example. But Cody’s Wish has a poignant story behind his name.

Back in 2018, 12-year-old Cody Dorman was taking a tour of Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky, the main stud farm for the Godolphin stable. Cody had spent his life battling Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a chromosomal disorder that affects many body parts. Unable to walk or speak, he could only communicate via a tablet. The visit was part of the Keeneland Association’s Make a Wish Day. 

During his visit, an inquisitive foal walked across and put his head in Cody’s lap. The foal was therefore named Cody’s Wish, and he went on to become one of the top-performing racehorses of his era, with total winnings of almost $3 million. 

Going out on a high at one of horse race betting’s biggest races 

In 2022, Cody’s Wish scored the biggest win of his racing career to date, coming first in the Dirt Mile at the Breeder’s Cup. Young Cody was there to witness “his” horse’s proudest moment, as he was for most of the bay’s races. This year, it was announced that the race that put Cody’s Wish onto everybody’s radar would be his last before going out to stud. 

The public wanted a fairytale end and the horse racing betting sites were swamped with punters. Betting with the heart instead of the head? It certainly looked that way when Cody’s Dream was squeezed at the break and found himself bringing up the rear. What followed would even stretch a fairytale writer’s credibility. Going into the final half, he was still sixth, but as he split horses left and right, National Treasure’s seemingly unassailable lead was suddenly cast into doubt. 

A photo-finish followed by an appeal combined to add more tension. But ultimately, the thousands who were there for the fairytale were satisfied, and Cody Dorman was right there in the winner’s enclosure to help celebrate the win. 

Jockey Junior Alvarado said with a smile that it was never in doubt. “He was helping me. When I got to the other horse, I just kind of let him know, ‘Listen, my job is done right here. Just take me to the last part.’ I knew he wasn’t going to let that other horse go by once he got in front.”

Joy and tragedy combined

Cody had been a constant presence throughout Cody’s Dream’s racing career but hopes that he would be able to pay further visits to the horse in retirement were dashed when Cody suffered a medical event on his way home from the Breeder’s Cup and passed away just hours after the celebrations. 

His father Kelly commented that Cody had endured between 40 and 50 operations during his short life and said: “We always knew this day would come, but we were determined to help Cody live his best life for however long we had him.” 

Meanwhile a statement from the Breeders Cup said of Cody: “His story captured our hearts and minds, and his strength, spirit, and determination were fittingly embodied by his namesake’s commanding performances in his honor.

Raising the profile of Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome

Cody Dorman’s incredible story leaves a legacy that will be remembered by future generations. It has also helped to raise the profile of Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a condition that affects around one in 50,000 births. 

Cody showed extraordinary bravery and resilience throughout his life, living for almost 18 years with a condition that most commonly proves fatal within the first two years. Research into the conditions continues, and as every patient is unique, treatment plans must be tailored to each individual to manage his or her symptoms.