Horse racing’s feel-good story of the last two years reached its inevitable climax on Thursday night when Cody’s Wish was named horse of the year at the 53rd Eclipse Awards, held in Palm Beach, Fla. The retired 6-year-old also won the award for older dirt male.
The horse was named after Cody Dorman, a teenager with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome who did not have the ability to walk or communicate on his own and first met the horse when he was a weanling and part of a Make-a-Wish event at Gainesborough Farm in Versailles, Ky.
The horse had never seen a wheelchair and there was concern how he might react. What he did was put his head in Cody’s lap. When it was time to name the horse, it was suggested he be called Cody’s Wish.
Every time the horse would see Cody, it was as if he remembered him, walking gently over and nuzzling the boy. Cody was at Keeneland when Cody’s Wish won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in 2022 and at Santa Anita last year when Cody’s Wish withstood a photo finish and an inquiry to win the Dirt Mile again.
Cody Dorman died the next day on the flight from Los Angeles to Kentucky, just shy of his 18th birthday. He was never supposed to live past 2.
“You’ll never hear Tom Hanks say there is no crying in horse racing,” said Kelly Dorman, Cody’s father, after the Horse of the Year award was announced. “I never would have dreamed five years ago when all this happened that I would be standing right here doing this. … I want to thank Cody’s Wish for everything he’s done. I know everyone here, you guys just blow me away, because I know you put your heart in these horses, day in and day out, it’s your life.
“And I know a lot of times those horses put their heart into you. … That horse sure put his heart into us.”
Cody’s Wish will now start a stallion career at Darley in Lexington, Ky. Last year he won four of his five races and he won 11 of 16 in his career.
He took 134 of the possible 219 first-place votes, beating White Abarrio (37) and Idiomatic (21).
As high a moment as that was for those in attendance Thursday, there were no victory speeches about any horses based in California. For the first time this century, no horse from California won an Eclipse Award. In fact, only one Southern California-based horse was even named a finalist, Muth in the 2-year-old male category. He finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Fierceness, who won the Eclipse in that division.
Until recently there was a time when California would dominate the awards, having won horse of the year six times since 2014. There were seven equine awards for 2019, the year Justify won the Triple Crown. Now, it seems, the awards are symptomatic of an industry that is struggling in California as an uncertain future awaits.
The Eclipse Awards are voted on by the National Thoroughbred Racing Assn., Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters, a group made up of journalists, some of whom are employed part-time by race tracks.
The voting was not close in most categories, where only first-place votes are counted to determine the winner.
The most dominant winner was Idiomatic in the older dirt female category. She got 211 of the 219 votes cast. She won eight of nine races last year.
Arcangelo, trained by Jenna Antonucci, the first female conditioner to win a Triple Crown race when the colt took the Belmont Stakes, won 3-year-old-male, while Pretty Mischievous, winner of the Kentucky Oaks, was top 3-year-old filly. Just FYI won the Eclipse for 2-year-old filly.
In the sprinting categories, Elite Power, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint was the top male and Goodnight Olive, winner of the Filly & Mare Sprint, was the winner in the female division. Up to the Mark, winner of five of seven races, won the male turf horse Eclipse award, while Inspiral, winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Turf, won the female turf horse award.
In the human categories, Bill Mott was top trainer, Irad Ortiz Jr. took the jockey award and Godolphin won in both the owner and breeders categories.