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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Cody’s Wish: A Strong Contender for Horse of the Year

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There isn’t much doubt that somebody is going to make a movie about Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman at some point.

The heart-warming tale of the star racehorse and the teenager he was named after already has been well documented by a wide variety of media outlets, including this one.

The 2023 Eclipse Awards ballots were due on Wednesday, and based on performance and social media debate, Horse of the Year should to be a tight one, unlike the 2022 slam dunk, when 239 voters picked Flightline on top, and Country Grammer, Life Is Good and Malathaat managed one each.

The format in each of 17 equine and human categories is simple: rank your top three, who earn corresponding points in a 10-5-1 format to determine three finalists. But ultimately the winner in each category is the one who gets the most No. 1 votes, regardless of total points.

The rules for voters are pretty simple, too. To be eligible, a horse must show at least one start in the U.S. or Canada last year. There’s no prohibition on sentimentality being a part of your decision process.

So if the 5-year-old Cody’s Wish is announced as Horse of the Year on Jan. 25 over such worthy contenders as White Abarrio, Up to the Mark, Idiomatic and Elite Power, there will be a natural inclination to believe that sentimentality played a part in his victory. And probably that will be true.

As a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters (NTWAB), I submitted my ballot (two hours before deadline, let the record show) and voted for Cody’s Wish for Horse of the Year, while trying hard not to let sentimentality come into it.

It’s a measure of how tough the assignment was this year, but ultimately his overall resume, while running on the biggest stages in the sport every time, just looked better.

To recap: Cody’s Wish won the Grade I Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day, the Grade I Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day, the Grade II Vosburgh at Aqueduct in October and polished off a 4-for-5 season with a dramatic win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 4. He’s only the second horse to win the BC Dirt Mile two years in a row since they started running it in 2007.

Cody’s Wish’s only loss was a third to White Abarrio (whom Cody’s Wish beat in the Met Mile) in the mile-and-an-eighth Whitney at Saratoga Race Course, a race that put trainer Bill Mott in a little bit of a pickle, since he also had to consider the sprinter Elite Power’s schedule in the pursuit of a championship for both horses.

White Abarrio went on to win the BC Classic, a huge victory, but just his second stakes win of 2023.

Up to the Mark, the only turf horse among the five logical Horse of the Year contenders, won three straight Grade I races before losing a close one in the BC Turf.

Elite Power, who raced twice at Saratoga, winning the A.G. Vanderbilt before a close second to Gunite in the Forego, deserves to be in the conversation, but sprinters just don’t win Horse of the Year. The two-time BC Sprint winner will easily win the Male Sprinter Eclipse for the second year in a row.

The case for Idiomatic, the only female in the group, is made off an 8-1-0 record from nine starts that include two allowance races last winter, but also three straight Grade I wins to close the season, the Personal Ensign at Saratoga, the Spinster at Keeneland and the BC Distaff.

So this is no Flightline situation.

But I go back to something Mott has said a few times about the wonderful saga that brought Cody’s Wish and the Dorman family together.

Yeah, it’s a great story. But the horse did his part on the track, too.

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Jack Sullivan
Jack Sullivan
Jack Sullivan, an informed and passionate sports reporter, is a former college athlete with a degree in Sports Communication from Ithaca College. Go Bombers!
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