Cody’s Wish Wins Second Secretariat Vox Populi Award

For the first time since its inception in 2010 the Secretariat Vox Populi Award was won by the same horse in back-to-back years. But the story of Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman in many ways transcended awards by taking us to places we have never been. ~ Steve Haskin

Cody’s Wish Wins Second Secretariat Vox Populi Award 

By Steve Haskin


It didn’t seem possible after Cody’s Wish’s convincing victory in last year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award voting and his namesake Cody Dorman winning the Big Sport of Turfdom Award that the 4-year-old colt’s popularity could reach new heights in 2023 and earn him another Vox Populi Award, the first ever back-to-back winner, and Team Cody Dorman winning the Mr. Fitz Award for typifying the spirit of racing. After all, their heartwarming story had been told several times last year on national TV, numerous TV newscasts, and countless features in newspapers and magazines.

But Cody’s Wish wasn’t done with the story. This year, the more he kept running the more he kept winning, and the more he kept winning the longer he kept the story alive. And the longer the story was kept alive, the longer the features continued and more people were introduced to it. Finally, it had infiltrated so many hearts around the world it was inevitable that it would set in motion talks of a book and full-length motion picture. But not only did Cody’s Wish keep the story alive, he may very well have kept Cody Dorman alive, at least according to his father, Kelly.

“Cody had been through so much in his life, with all the surgeries and the heart and respiratory and kidney problems, he had gotten so depressed,” Kelly said. “He never had a night that he didn’t go to bed without tubes and catheters hooked up to him. I can’t tell you how many times we cried and how much we prayed. If that horse hadn’t come along we may have lost Cody four or five years ago. I truly believe the horse bought him several more years.

“After so many ordeals I had forgotten how to cry. I kept it all inside and started to get angry. But when Cody met that horse and I saw the way he interacted with him I bawled my eyes out. It was like he flipped the switch. From the moment Cody’s Wish first laid his head in Cody’s lap we knew that wherever he went from there he’d always be running for Cody. But as time went on and the story of these two grew bigger it became very evident that Cody’s Wish was running for more than Cody. In many ways he ran for the entire world, mainly every child and adult that had unimaginable challenges in their lives. And at the same time he helped raise money for Make-A-Wish.”

Kelly was recently informed by the Make-A-Wish marketing team who were looking over all of Cody’s social media numbers that their story has over a billion views. A stunned Kelly had to confirm, “That’s billion with a ‘b’?”

Walt Disney once said the secret of Mickey Mouse’s popularity is that he is so human. We all are well aware by now that Cody’s Wish’s popularity is due to a human and a bond that began several years ago that has continued to link the two together, some believe in a spiritual way. But could it also be that after two years of countless features and endearing photos we began to see Cody’s Wish as an extension of Cody Dorman and attributed him with human qualities, such as his flair for dramatics on the two occasions when the whole world was watching? Even his Met Mile tour-de-force was viewed by a national audience and a packed Belmont grandstand on Belmont Stakes day.

His riveting victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile provided the ending everyone was looking for. With all of racing craving for a feel-good story during a time of controversy and tragedy it was as if Cody’s Wish was aware of the stage on which he was performing and knew it was time to pull the heartstrings to the limit. At least that is what we’d like to think.

And like he did in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Cody’s Wish once again refused to give up, battling every step of the way down the stretch against a classic-winning foe to eke out another hard-earned victory, setting off a tidal wave of emotion. The Dirt Mile is usually not considered one of the more prestigious Breeders’ Cup races, but in 2023 it was the highlight of the entire two-day event and will be the race everyone remembers years from now.

But Cody’s Wish’s popularity and the true story behind this unique friendship went far beyond his victories and even beyond the cameras.

On the Wednesday before this year’s Breeders’ Cup, Cody had asked to be awakened at 7 o’clock so he could go to the track and watch the horses train, not having any idea when Cody’s Wish was going to train. They went out and found a spot by the rail, not realizing that Cody’s Wish was about to train in five minutes. As the colt jogged back he turned his head sharply to the left and saw Cody. Kelly said he looked right at him and never took his eyes off him.

Another incident that went unnoticed took place the following day when Cody was brought to the barn to see his friend. Instead of being in his chair he was brought in a stroller, which was not quite as secure. At one point Cody’s Wish went over to Cody, lowered his head, and rested it on his lap. Kelly went to straighten Cody out, and the way he described it, “When I reached down, Cody’s Wish stared a hole in me. I told him, ‘OK, buddy, I won’t touch him, he’s all yours.’”

One of the more profound moments came three days before last year’s Dirt Mile when Cody visited the barn. “Cody and Cody’s Wish stared into each other’s eyes for a moment and then Cody’s Wish leaned into him and rubbed his nose up and down Cody’s right cheek,” Kelly said. “There wasn’t a dry eye around there.”

Looking back over these last few years, Kelly said, “Seeing Cody’s Wish’s performances on the track and seeing in person the enduring love for Cody is something that will be branded in our hearts forever.”

To demonstrate just how quickly this story grew and how deeply it touched people, Cody’s Wish this year became the only non-human to ever win the prestigious Musial Award for “extraordinary displays of sportsmanship that represent the best in sports and humanity and embody class and character.” Named for St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial, the award has been won by such iconic sports figures as Hank Aaron, Wayne Gretzky, Arnold Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., and Olympic great Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Unfortunately, no one could have envisioned how this story would end, and it left the Dorman family and all those emotionally involved with questions that will forever remain unanswered. It ended quietly and peacefully where one would expect an ethereal story to end, 30,000 feet in the air. Kelly said that Cody that night was all smiles. “Cody’s Wish had just given us a magical moment as always and Cody was as happy as I’ve ever seen him,” he said.

“We were on a 7 a.m. flight. Normally, Cody would get on early and I would sit outside him on the aisle. But Delta had a couple of open seats up front and thought it would be easier to get Cody on and off quickly, so he and Leslie moved up. I remember them announcing we were 45 minutes from Atlanta, where we would change planes. Cody had laid his head against Leslie and fallen asleep. He never woke up. I looked up and saw the flight attendant talking to Leslie and then grabbing the oxygen mask. She happened to be a registered nurse and looked for a pulse. They began CPR and called the paramedics. They brought him to the hospital and tried to revive him, but 45 minutes later he was gone.

“I went to a thousand pieces. The hardest thing I ever had to do in my life is tell Kylie she had lost her big brother. Then something unusual happened. They put us in a separate room, and in there were just two paintings hanging on the wall that were done by children. Both of them were of horses and one of them reminded me of Cody’s Wish. That brought us a little bit of peace.”

Perhaps Cody Dorman’s mother, Leslie, put it best when she said of Cody’s Wish and her late son, “He ran like Cody lived his life – never give up.”

Cody’s story is far from over. Award-winning journalist Paul Halloran already is working feverishly on a book and Kelly has been approached by several production companies about a movie. “I just want them to realize the best screenwriter in the world couldn’t make this story any more perfect than it already is,” he said. “Cody had done great things even before Cody’s Wish came along and he is going to be inspiring people long after our time here is over.”

There are rumors now about a bronze of Cody’s Wish being built, most likely with his head held low, allowing children to pose under it, especially those who are wheel chair-bound and are able to touch his nose as if interacting with the horse. If this comes to fruition, there is no doubt it will be one of the most popular and photographed statues regardless of where it ends up. Although this would be a statue only of Cody’s Wish, you can be sure Cody Dorman will be there right at the horse’s head where he often was and where he always will be.

Photos courtesy of Jaime Corum, Kelly Dorman

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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42 Responses to “Cody’s Wish Wins Second Secretariat Vox Populi Award”

  1. Lorna Edge says:

    I’d like to find out how to buy the Cody’s?Wish lithograph by Jamie Corum.

  2. Todd Chandler says:

    I want a print please. Im friends with the Dorman family and have a Cody’s Dorman/ Codys Wish display

  3. So glad Cody’s Wish honored again. After 47 years of equine practice, and a horsekid before that, and many many horses of my own, I can honestly say that horses are extraordinarily emotionally deep sentient beings. Cody’s Wish exemplified this in a very public way and is indeed a special individual. But I have seen non famous ponies protect their child riders, accepting a precious responsibility. I have seen a loyal stock horse carefully balancing his elder rider, recovering from a stroke, as that man insisted on returning to equitation. Therapy horses in my practice helping troubled humans find acceptance in themselves, and healing. My own stallion seeing a mare ready to kick and intervening to take the kick himself and save me from injury. I hope Cody’s Wish’s remaining years without his special friend will be happy, and that this story will encourage people everywhere to realize how very special the equine species can be, and accordingly treat them as well as they truly deserve. p.s. So glad you, Steve, continue to write with such meaning, and that you have found such a special home.

  4. Matthew W says:

    Steve an incredible irony it would have been had a son of Solomini been DQ’d,d in the Los Al Futurity!…Owned by the track owner…the $600k chestnut–much larger than his rival who bumped with him— wins at 13-1 from rail in maiden….wins at 13-1 from the rail TODAY, the other speed (trained by Bob) Sat off, $29.40!….easy first half, and g’bye!…

    Emotional winners circle….Bob folded the saddle cloth and presented it to Allred, and his family, then he threw his arm around Kyle Frey’s shoulder, it was very special ..

    • Matthew W says:

      Quite the pinhook, sold as a September yearling for $50k….sold seven months later as an April 2yo…for $700k….first crop Solominis are performing admirably, already two stakes winners, for the $7500 sire …

  5. Diane Kwolek says:

    Exceptional article Steve, and there are no dry eyes here. I spent my early childhood in and out of hospital and I can’t stress enough how important it is for children to have that special someone or relationship to hang onto which causes no pain, no fear, no anxiety. I am so grateful that Cody Dorman had that experience in his life time, with a very special horse that gave him that pure unconditional love . I look forward to reading your columns each and every week Steve and wish you a Happy Hanukkah ,and Happy Holidays to all of my fellow readers.

  6. Clownskill says:

    I did not know that Belmont’s upgrade would mean Aqueduct is closing. I’m sad about that.

  7. Bill Dawson says:

    On a side note, Otto the Conqueror, is entered in the Remington Springboard Mile Stakes, (10 Derby Points), on Saturday, 12-15. By Street Sense, out of a Shackleford mare, this Steve Asmussen trained colt, has shown excellent speed in 3 career starts, all at 7 furlongs. He beat Honor Marie, by 4 open lengths last out, in a 100K OC, on October 29th, at Churchill.
    Subsequent to that race, Honor Marie went on to win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, so you would think Otto the Conqueror has a bright future moving forward. In the event he wins the Remington, which I think he will, look for his current odds at 125-1, at Caesars, to drop significantly.

    • Bill Dawson says:

      My current top twelve 2yr. old colts, as of 12-13 (3rd edition, revised), in preferential order.

      1) Fierceness
      2) Nysos
      3) Otto the Conqueror (new addition)
      4) Nash (new addition)
      5) Muth
      6) Honor Marie
      7) Locked
      8) Knightsbridge
      9) El Capi
      10) Sierra Leone
      11) Dornoch
      12) The Wine Steward

      • Counter Point says:

        I am a bit puzzled as to why Sierra Leone is ranked so low. Let’s see what a deep dive into the colt’s performances to date reveal:

        Sierra Leone won on debut over 8F after bobbling at the start and was piloted 4W at the top of the lane for his stretch run. Despite his troubled trip, he won in hand. A debutant that gives up ground at the start and on the turn and then wins easily, is no ordinary debutant. His winning time of 1:36.94 albeit over a 1turn mile is within range of the average 8F split of the last 20 KDs.

        He made his 2nd start in a graded stake over 9F. He trailed the Remsen field by 12 1/2L. He lost several lengths due to being piloted 7W for his stretch run. He lost further ground by drifting to the rail. It was obvious that Dornoch rallied to regain the lead from a tiring Sierra Leone. Fatigue would he immanent at this point of the colt’s race, given he had to close a 12 1/2L gap against a speed bias and whilst covering the most ground on any in the race.

        No deep closer won on the speed favoring surface at the Big A on Remsen day. The fact that Sierra Leone was able to close a 12 1/2L gap and lost ground twice and was only beaten by a NK. Bears testament to his exceptional performance albeit in defeat. Further, his performance reflects the immense potential the $2.3M colt possesses.

        Given the details above, any objective analyst would lead to the conclusion that Sierra Leone deserves to be raked much higher.

        The colts you have ranked from 3 to 9 haven’t deliver a performance under the adverse conditions, speed bias and ground loss that combined to form challenges Sierra Leone had to overcome en-route to his NK defeat.

        Compiling KD top 12 list is not an easy undertaking. However, rankings should be based on critically assessed performances. Emotions, speed figures, trainers and wide margin wins against overmatched opponents shouldn’t play a significant role.

    • Bill Dawson says:

      Hats off to Steve Asmussen, he had Otto the Conqueror fully cranked for he’s impressive win in the Remington Springboard Mile.
      He showed he’s a fighter, not backing down an inch, as he battled Glengarry down the stretch for the win, in a good time of 1:39 and change. Now, it’s back to Oaklawn Park for his next stakes race.
      In addition, I liked the way Magic Grant was closing to finish 3rd. He’s one to watch moving forward as well.

      • Matthew W says:

        Fillies went four lengths faster ..

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        Congrats to you, Bill, for picking Otto to win. I liked the performances of both Otto and Glengarry, but I wouldn’t bet them going longer. They crawled home the last quarter mile, and the Beyers (71 and 70) were very low for a stakes race this late in the year. Probably pegged to the fast-closing Magic Grant, who “improved” his Beyer from 61 to 67.

        • Bill Dawson says:

          Hi Ms Blacktype

          Thank you for the reply. As you’re well aware, these 2yr. old colts are still developing, adding muscle and weight to fill out their frames. Based on his impressive pedigree, which is inundated with speed and stamina (dam side), it is my belief that Otto the Conqueror, will improve significantly, as he stretches out to stakes races contested at 8.5 to 9 furlongs.
          Subsequent to OTC’s Remington win, his trainer, Steve Asmussen seemed quite happy with his performance, and mentioned that his colt would return to Hot Springs but didn’t mention where he would be pointed for his next outing. I would think the Southwest, on January 27th might be under consideration, or possibly the Lecomte, at the Fair Grounds on January 20th.
          Despite his slow last quarter, I will continue to support Otto the Conqueror moving forward on the Derby trail.

  8. Elizabeth Unwin says:

    Heart wrenching and inspiring and wonderful all at the same time. Horses are incredible beings!

  9. Carol Parmenter says:

    Steve, you have such a beautiful way with words. I, along with thousands of others, have followed this story from the beginning. I cannot believe it was a coincidence how the events unfolded. God works in mysterious ways. I hope the Dormans know just how much the world wants to surround them with love during this difficult time. Is there anyway I can get a copy of this article? I didn’t see a print option on my screen. Also, I especially loved the short video of their visit to Cody’s Wish a couple of weeks ago at the farm. So special! Again, thank you for the special article. Carol

  10. Beth Koch says:

    Steve, this was beautiful. Through my tears I will tell you that I expected no less. I send Happy Holiday wishes to you, your family, and all your readers, and in particular to the Dorman family. I know this will be hard for them, but they have the love and good wishes of many, many thousands to help hold them up.

  11. Janell Berkhouse says:

    I had no doubt whatsoever that Cody’s wish would win this award again. His story is so touching it brings tears to your eyes and it’s just heart-wrenching every time you hear it or see it on the TV or read about it it’s just so touching. I can’t wait to see what the print looks like. And when it becomes available to order I’m definitely ordering it.

  12. Derek Manthey says:

    Thanks Steve, They say A horse and it’s jockey the result is greater than the sum of its parts. Add Cody to this equation the result is multiplied by the power of 10 or all of us! Happy Holidays Steve and I hope you realize that your endeavors mean so much to us and makes our lives a little bit sweeter.

  13. Steve Haskin says:

    I want to thank everyone for your beautiful comments and for all the kind words. It has been my honor and privilege to write about this amazing story. Paul Halloran has been on it since last year and will do a fantastic job.

    • Lynda King says:

      And thank you Steve for all the stories, the memories and the racing analysis and the Secretariat website for giving us this forum to discuss, offer our analysis and share our memories.
      I have learned and continue to learn from everyone, especially you.

      As this year and the celebration of Secretariat’s 50th Anniversiary of his Triple Crown comes to a close, I am very grateful that Penny’s legacy and that of Secretariat lives on in the Vox Populi, on this website and through your writings.

  14. Carol Fox says:

    Steve I don’t know how the journalist writing that book could tell this story any better than you did here. Just beautifully said. This story is unforgettable, the best horseracing story ever.

  15. arlingtonfan says:

    Gosh, Steve, this is absolutely beautiful. We have all been so fortunate, first to be witnesses to this extraordinary bond and then to savor it all over again through your masterful storytelling. Thank you!

  16. Teri Shelton says:

    Your unbelievable talent in this piece as always, is as memorable as the story it tells. Cody Dorman, Kelly, Leslie, Kylie and of course Cody’s Wish, will forever be in our hearts! Brings tears to my eyes, but they are happy tears! One of the most beautiful and touching stories ever! The horse racing world and anyone that has ever heard it will never forget!
    Thanks Steve!

  17. Lynda King says:

    Thank you Steve so much for the tribute to Cody’s Wish and Cody.
    It was all I could do to see the beautiful words you wrote through my tears.

    Their story is one of inspiration, love and the special gifts they each had that somehow miraculously came together the day they first met.

    Their journey together did indeed transcend “awards by taking us to places we have never been”.

    I feel blessed and honored to have experienced it.

    Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah to you Steve and your family and to each and everyone in the circle of friends who come by and comment on your articles!

  18. Fernando Ramos says:

    You have been one of my favorite horse racing personalities, ever since I first heard you on
    “At The Races” and began following your old “Derby Dozen” columns. I now deeply respect your truly outstanding writing ability, to be able to thoughtfully layout and present a story such that one feels like you’re right there witnessing the story first hand yourself. I’m not much of a reader, so it takes a whole lot for me to want to read something, but your writings of the Cody and Cody’s Wish story were so touching and heartfelt that I was happy and glad I read it (truth be told, I tend to read your columns every chance I get because I know the quality of your work!)

    PS – I also wanted to thank you for spreading the word about last month’s horse farm tour of Lane’s End, with the opportunity to see one of favorite races horses, namely Flight Line. It was a thrill of a life time for me to see him up close and personal and to have a picture of him with me. Visiting a horse farm in Kentucky was a bucket list item for me, but to top it off with Flight Line, and not to mention Zenyatta and her new foals, plus the other stallions standing at Lane’s End, many of whom I watched run and bet on a few times. Thanks again!

  19. Bill Dawson says:

    Hi Steve

    Thank you for posting such a moving tribute to Cody Dorman and Cody’s Wish, they will long be remembered.
    I can envision their life’s story coming out on the Silver Screen.

  20. Ms Blacktype says:

    Your story proves just how exceptional Cody’s Wish is, and how smart — emotionally smart — he is. I’m so glad he brought joy and comfort not only to Cody Dorman, but his entire family. Thank you, Steve.

  21. bigtex says:

    To those of you who read all of that without a tissue, hat’s off to you. I could not! Brilliant story, Steve!

  22. Suzie Thompson says:

    I loved this tribute, Steve. I agree Cody’s Wish gave Cody Dorman a reason to live. Beautiful story.

  23. Deacon says:

    Well written piece Steve & a well deserved award for a beautiful horse that captured America’s heart.
    Both Cody’s kept dreams alive & gave hope for people coming together & laying aside their differences.
    In a troubled world with so much violence & anger, this story reminds us that love conquers all.
    Thank you for posting………..

  24. Jiffy says:

    A beautiful tribute. I was beginning to think that everything that could be said about Cody’s Wish had already been said. Then I read this and found a lot of new things to bring tears to my eyes. Thank you for writing it.

  25. Nick says:

    Thank you Steve for this beautiful article a standing ovation for Cody and Cody