Cody’s Wish Raises Vox Populi Award to New Heights

Despite having two other Vox Populi Award finalists in the public’s consciousness most of the year, the voters turned to that one special story that so often defines what Thoroughbred racing is all about. ~ Steve Haskin

Cody’s Wish Raises Vox Populi Award to New Heights

By Steve Haskin

How do you explain the bond between a horse and a 16-year-old boy who has been imprisoned his entire life by a rare genetic disorder that has shut him off from the outside world?

How do you explain how a horse can break those shackles of imprisonment even briefly to bring that boy into the hearts of an entire nation?

How do you explain how a horse can unite a family and turn misfortune into joyous celebration, fame, and accolades beyond imagination?

How do you explain how a horse and his relationship with that young boy can infiltrate the soul of a nation and elicit such strong emotion that they would vote him the Secretariat Vox Populi Award as the country’s most popular horse even though they knew little about him until late in the year when they were exposed to his story?

How do you explain how a five-month-old horse and a 12-year-old boy unable to use his body and natural communicative skills could bond and one day each win separate awards 15 days apart that had previously been won by multiple Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers?

There have been many reasons why people have voted for a particular horse for the Vox Populi Award. Here was a horse owned by the powerful international Godolphin operation that not many people knew much about despite him rattling off six wins in seven starts beginning in maiden and allowance races and then winning a pair of Grade 3 stakes and a listed race before winning the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga, and then the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. But to racing fans across America he was just part of the Godolphin juggernaut that has won major stakes around the world.

And then prior to the Breeders’ Cup NBC brought Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman to the attention of the American public and all points of the globe with the story of love, trust, joy, and in many ways salvation between a horse and a boy whose meeting had to be guided by fate. There simply is no other way to explain it.

But let’s start at the beginning of this remarkable story. Cody Dorman was born with a chromosome affliction called Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome that affects many parts of the body and its functions, such as motor skills, and often causes seizures. With it also comes delayed growth and development and the inability to speak. It took four to five months for the Dorman family to have Cody’s condition diagnosed.

“Cody was dealt a bad hand in life, but he has never let it define who he is, which is a fighter and a very intelligent and caring young man,” said his father Kelly, who lives in Richmond, Kentucky and works in fabrication and machining.

Through modern technology, Cody is able to communicate with the help of an infra-red iPad camera-like device situated on his nose-bridge that emanates red dots that Cody uses to navigate by slight movements of his head. It is attached to a keyboard and when you click on the icon Cody’s words show up like an iPad chat. If you don’t understand any of that, just chalk it up to the miracles of science. What is important is that it allows Cody to communicate.

“At first we were just hoping he would be able to communicate through his eyes with a yes and a no; that would have been a Godsend,” Kelly said.” But with this device Cody was so smart he blew it out of the water. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was amazed how well he took off with this.”

In 2018, at age 12, Cody was given the opportunity to live a dream through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His main passion in life was fishing and he got to go to the Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield, Missouri and tour the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium with his favorite fisherman Mark Zona.

As exciting as that was for Cody, the greatest miracle was still to come. Shortly after, the Dormans were contacted again by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Knowing his love of all animals, he was invited, along with other children from the Make-A-Wish program to attend the races at Keeneland, which was working in conjunction with Make-A-Wish to raise money every October. Each child was given VIP status and had a race in his or her honor. But first, each child was given the opportunity to visit a breeding farm and meet a Thoroughbred. Cody, like the others, was selected at random to visit Godolphin at Gainsborough Farm near Versailles.

“Every fall meet Keeneland has a day in which each race had a Make-A-Wish recipient attached to it and a farm as a host sponsor,” said Godolphin director of bloodstock Michael Banahan. “It’s a blind draw and we don’t know the recipient we are paired with until we meet them. We invite them for a farm tour in conjunction with the races. That year we were paired with Cody Dorman.

“Every year as the host for our recipient we also give them an opportunity to meet a horse. For Cody we chose a 5-month-old Curlin colt because he was a very amenable foal for someone in a wheelchair. He walked up to Cody, nuzzled him and laid his head in his lap, which was the start of their bond.”

The Dorman family eventually was notified that the colt had been named Cody’s Wish. The family kept up with his progress through texts with Godolphin, giving Cody updates on how his horse was doing.

When Cody’s Wish finally made it to the races and finished third in his first three starts, Cody felt it was because he wasn’t there to see him run. So in his next start Cody attended the race and his namesake won three years almost to the day since the two had met for the first time. Cody made sure he saw all of Cody’s Wish’s races after that, either in person or on TV. Cody’s Wish went on to win five of his next six starts, culminating with a powerful victory over Sprint Champion Jackie’s Warrior in this year’s seven-furlong Forego Stakes in a near-track record 1:20 4/5.

Cody’s little friend now found himself primed for a big effort in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. He had beaten the champion sprinter and now it was time to stretch out and take on the country’s top milers.

During Breeders’ Cup week the Dorman family received a letter from Drew Fleming, president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, telling them that NBC was doing a feature on Cody and Cody’s Wish and asked if they could come out to Keeneland so Cody could be reunited with his friend who had become such an important part of his life.

So, three days before the Breeders’ Cup and four years since their first meeting, the Dorman family went to Keeneland to see Cody’s Wish.

“I was nervous,” Kelly Dorman said. “It would be fine if there weren’t a lot of people there.  I didn’t know how the horse would handle it with 15 to 20 people. Bill Mott brought him out and Cody’s Wish stood there for a minute checking everyone out. Then he saw Cody and went right to him and Cody let out with a big belly laugh, something he rarely does. The horse stepped back and both stared at each other. Then Cody’s Wish came back and rubbed his face up and down Cody’s cheek. I had to get myself back together. The tears were flowing. I don’t question it or try to figure it out. I just know this horse was sent from heaven above.”

Then came the Breeders’ Cup with the Dorman family and friends firmly planted by the rail. What happened next was what fairy tales are made of. Cody’s Wish, racing in eighth, a dozen lengths back, came flying down the stretch and hooked up with multiple Grade 1-winning 3-year-old Cyberknife. The pair battled to the wire with a determined Cody’s Wish just getting his head in front.

“They were dead even when they passed us and we couldn’t tell who had won,” Kelly said. “The camera was on me and you sure couldn’t tell from the look on my face. Then word started to circulate to us from the people watching in the winner’s circle that Cody had won. I didn’t know what was happening because it was so noisy and wild all around us. After hearing he had won I was just trying to breathe. I do remember hugging Cody and telling him, ‘He won! He did it, boy!’ There was so much electricity going through the place. I never felt anything like it. I turned to Cody and said, ‘What are you going to pull off next?'”

By now, all of America watching on TV knew the story of Cody and Cody’s Wish and it brought out a flood of emotion.

“The horse is what caused all this,” Kelly said. “We were all in a fog. We didn’t pick him, he picked us. Right after the Breeders’ Cup we weren’t used to being blasted with cameras. Cody is just a big ‘ol country boy at heart who loves animals. I can’t believe how far reaching this has become. It’s surreal but we’ve gotten used to it. Cody is a very humble person and when he sees how this story touches people he gives that little smile and it really warms his heart. That’s more important to him than being some kind of a celebrity.”

Upon learning that Cody’s Wish had won the 2022 Vox Populi Award, the Dorman family expressed their gratitude in a note to saying:

“Thank you Cody’s Wish for not only having the heart of a warrior on the track but even more so for having a heart of gold off the track. You have not only inspired an amazing young man but you’ve touched the hearts of thousands of people in many walks of life. You’ve provided tears of joy, warmed hearts and provided a simple smile to so many. The love shown between Cody and Cody’s Wish is such a blessing. A blessing that showed up when nobody knew it was coming, and one that will be cherished for years to come.”

It is only appropriate that each should share their own award, both well deserving. The people voted Cody’s Wish the Vox Populi Award with their hearts, and that’s what the award stands for. When the family flew to Arizona for the teenage Cody to accept the Big Sport of Turfdom Award at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program’s annual awards luncheon on Dec. 6, it turned into a memorable experience for all.

“We couldn’t believe some of the names on the list of winners,” said Cody’s mother Kylie. “It all seems like a dream we don’t want to wake up from.”

So why did the fans come out in force to vote for a horse for the Vox Populi Award who they knew little or nothing about prior to his Breeder’ Cup victory? Here’s what few had to say:

“If you watched his story during the pre-race coverage of the Dirt Mile and didn’t find yourself with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes as he powered down the stretch to victory then you are a stronger person than me,” said voter Monica Admire. “THAT is what horse racing means to me. The heart, the soul and the magic of the Thoroughbred and their far-reaching impact on our lives.”

Karen Emmons added, “You know there is something special about a horse when your heart swells and tears begin to flow as he surges to the win.”

Perhaps Dawn Smith summed it up best: “Every horse that races leaves hoofprints on the track but it’s the special ones that leave hoofprints on our hearts. Cody’s Wish tells the feel good story the sport needs and that is what Penny Chenery’s Vox Populi legacy is meant to be.”

And if you still want to know why Cody’s Wish won the Vox Populi Award, Kelly Dorman provided the answer in just a few words: “That horse has taught us all how to live.”

Photos courtesy of 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.


Signup for the newsletter For new announcements, merchandise updates and other excitement here at, please enter your email address in the popup window. Our mailing list is never sold or viewed by anyone other than