Cody Dorman, who inspired a nation over his bond with a horse, dies

Cody Dorman wears the winner's flower sash after Cody's Wish's win in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.
Cody Dorman wears the winner's flower blanket after Cody's Wish's win in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last year at Keenelend Race Course. (Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Cody Dorman, whose relationship with a horse who was named after him became an inspiration to the country, died while flying from Los Angeles to Kentucky the day after Cody’s Wish won his second Breeders’ Cup race. He was 17.

“We are heartbroken to share the news that our beloved Cody suffered a medical event on our trip home to Kentucky [Sunday] and he has passed away,” Kelly and Leslie Dorman, Cody’s parents, said in a statement. “On Saturday, Cody watched his best friend, Cody’s Wish, display his usual perseverance and toughness in winning a second Breeders’ Cup.

“Those are the same characteristics Cody has showed time and again for the 18 years we were blessed to have him. We have been completely amazed to experience the impact Cody has had on so many people, through the journey that this wondrous racehorse has taken us all on.”

Cody and his family were celebrating Cody’s 18th birthday a month early when they came to Santa Anita Park to see his namesake run in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. The horse, who was running his last race, won by a nose and also had to endure a five-minute inquiry after there was bumping between him and National Treasure down the stretch. Cody was waiting down in the winner’s circle as he did has on several other occasions.

Cody was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a genetic disorder that can leave a person without the ability to walk or communicate. He was not expected to live past the age of 2.

Read more: Why Cody's Wish's last Breeders' Cup race is washed in tears and hope

It was in October 2018 when Cody attended a Make-a-Wish event, sponsored by Keeneland, at Gainsborough Farm in Versailles, Ky. There was concern because Cody was in a wheelchair and Danny Mulvihill, the farm manager, was unsure how a young horse would react to that unfamiliar piece of equipment. So, he chose an unnamed colt who had not yet been weaned from his mother, Dance Card, to meet Cody.

“The foal just came out and took a look at the wheelchair and Cody, and took a second look and inched closer and never gave us a cause for concern,” Mulvihill said. “And he just kept inching closer until his nose was right there. He was nuzzling Cody’s hand and then his head went into Cody’s lap.”

The next year, the colt was named Cody’s Wish at the suggestion of Mary Bourne, the office manager at Gainsborough, who had stayed in touch with the Dorman family.

Two years later, Cody was having problems at home and his parents thought a visit to the farm and to see the horse he had seemingly bonded with would help Cody. A visit was set up.

Again, there was concern because Cody’s Wish was now full sized, fit and in training. But, things worked out perfectly.

Read more: After an up-and-down career, White Abarrio takes victory in Breeders' Cup Classic

“[The trainer’s] exact words to me when he came out is, ‘That horse remembered who he was,’” said Mulvihill. “Once again, he pulled him, pulled him, pulled him forward and he was right there in front of Cody again and nuzzling his hand.”

That scene played out several times as Cody went to the horse’s races at Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Saratoga and on Saturday, at Santa Anita.

“With Cody’s diagnosis at birth, we always knew this day would come, but we were determined to help Cody live his best life for however long we had him,” his parents said. “Anyone who has seen him at the racetrack, especially around Cody’s Wish, understands that in many ways he taught us all how to live, always keeping a positive attitude and being more concerned about those around him than himself.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.