Harry Payne Whitney: Like Father, Like Son
The most inspiring story at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships involves Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile contender Cody’s Wish and his namesake, Cody Dorman.
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The 16-year-old Dorman was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a rare genetic disorder affecting many body parts. He experiences frequent seizures. He is unable to walk or speak, relying on a tablet to communicate.
Perhaps nothing has helped Dorman as much as his interaction with Cody’s Wish since the 4-year-old was a foal at Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm in Versailles, Ky. The teenager visited the farm with his parents, Leslie and Kelly, and his sister, Kylie, 8, as part of Keeneland Race Course's association with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In a diary written for America’s Best Racing with Tom Pedulla, Kelly Dorman recounts the relationship that has developed between his brave son and rising star racehorse Cody’s Wish, who rolls into the Breeders’ Cup as a winner of six of his last seven starts. Update: Cody’s Wish won the Dirt Mile by a head on Nov. 5, setting off an emotional celebration from Cody, his family, supporters, and the fans at Keeneland (see video below).
We all had our doubts about how it would go the first time Cody met the foal who would be named Cody’s Wish. Horses tend to be afraid of things they have never seen before, so we were all worried about how the foal would react to the sight of a wheelchair.
But this foal was determined to get close to my son. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer. He just kind of crept up to him, inching closer and closer. Then he sniffed around him for a bit. Then he laid his head in his lap.
Although farm manager Danny Mulvihill had hand-picked that foal, a homebred son of Curlin, he could not believe what had just happened. Nothing was really said at all. We all just appreciated the moment. Cody doesn’t show a lot of emotion, but he had this little smile that made all of us feel so good.
We kept in touch with Mary Bourne, the office manager, from time to time. About a year later, Mary called and we talked about that visit. She said she had never seen a foal take to a child that way and said they had decided to name it Cody’s Wish in honor of my son.
‘If he has half of the heart of my son, he’s going to do a lot of great things,’ I told her.
Mary did everything she could to lower my expectations since it is so hard to produce a really good runner. My heart was telling me something else. ‘Mary, I can’t explain it, but something deep down inside me is telling me something special is going to come of this,’ I told her.
Cody needed his first heart surgery when he was 5 weeks old. As Leslie and I followed the stretcher toward the operating room, he swung his arm and I could swear he was making a fist. It is something I always held on to.
They’ve had to revive Cody twice. He’s needed 40-50 surgeries, including two open-heart surgeries. He has a scar from his waistline to the base of his neck. There have been a number of times when Cody was hospitalized and doctors told us afterward, they were surprised he made it. He’s always had this no-quit mentality.
Cody was pretty down, though, the second time we visited Cody’s Wish at the farm. He had nearly gone into shock from internal bleeding after a vessel in his stomach ruptured, requiring emergency surgery. His grandfather had died. And Covid, with the restrictions on activity, had hit everyone pretty hard.
We were warned that Cody’s Wish might need to keep a distance this time. He was no longer a docile foal but a 2-year-old that was full of energy and might be unpredictable. But Cody’s Wish was as friendly as before, coming close enough that Cody could pet him on the nose. I can count on one hand the number of times I have heard my son laugh out loud, just a big belly laugh, and he started doing it that day when they brought the horse out.
Cody’s Wish has been so good for my son. He did not start to race until he was a 3-year-old. He was still figuring everything out as he finished third in his first three races for Bill Mott. Cody told his mother the horse would not win until he was there to see it. Sure enough, that is what happened last October at Churchill Downs, just as Cody said it would.
Cody celebrated his 16th birthday last December with Cody’s Wish. He fed him carrots and Mott’s staff brought out a birthday cake that everyone shared, including the horse.
We have been looking forward to the Breeders’ Cup since Cody’s Wish won the Forego to guarantee his spot in the Dirt Mile. The Breeders’ Cup has been unbelievable in providing us with tickets for both days. Cody picked out a gray suit for Friday, a blue pinstriped suit for Saturday.
Whatever the result is, we don’t feel we can lose with all of the good that has come out of this for Cody.