Tears and Appreciation for Team Cody Carry the Evening at Eclipse Awards

The Dorman family accepted the Horse of the Year trophy on behalf of Godolphin and Cody's Wish | NTRA

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Cody's Wish (Curlin) was crowned both 2023 Horse of the Year and Older Dirt Male champion at Thursday night's 53rd annual Eclipse Awards ceremony, and when Kelly Dorman, the father of the late Cody Dorman, accepted the evening's highest honor on behalf of owner/breeder Godolphin, the crowd at The Breakers Palm Beach in Florida met his brief pause to shed a few bittersweet tears with a standing ovation that gave him time to collect his thoughts and let the gravity of the moment sink in.

On the track, Cody's Wish thrilled his fans with a successful defense of his title in the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. But his story resonated far beyond the finish line thanks to the bond that began in 2018 when then-12-year-old Cody Dorman, who was born with Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, first met the then-unnamed yearling while touring Godolphin as part of a Make-A-Wish outing.

As Cody's Wish rose through the graded stakes ranks, the story of the inspirational teenager he was named after captivated a nation of racing enthusiasts. But the years-long emotional ride ended too soon, when Cody Dorman died Nov. 5 at age 17 on his way back home to Kentucky after witnessing Cody's Wish end his career triumphantly at Santa Anita in the Breeders' Cup just one day earlier.

“I never would have dreamed five years ago, when all this happened, that I would be standing right here doing this,” Kelly Dorman said. “I wouldn't have dreamed about the wonderful people we've met. But I hope you guys got a TV in front of the stall down at Jonabell right now, because 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, day out,” Dorman said. “That's your life. And I know a lot of times those horses put their heart into you–the jockeys, the trainers, the owners, everybody. And man, that horse, he put his heart into us…

“One of the best things to come out of this, other than the grit and determination, was we got to watch Cody's Wish run,” Dorman said. “I think he got that honest when they gave him his name. 'Can't' and 'quit' were two words that we never used, never will. You might think that horse can't talk, but he can. But he won't use those two words either. He always spoke to Cody…

“I want to let you guys know how much it means, the fans that have come up to us and let us know how much the story behind the wonderful horse means, and just so many wonderful people that we've gotten to meet through this, the wonderful connections we've made. It puts a smile on our face, day in and day out.”

NTRA photo

Earlier in the evening, when the story of Cody's Wish won the Moment of the Year award for the second straight season, Dorman recounted an old adage that he said was appropriate in how his son and family have been accepted and welcomed by the racing industry.

“Over time, people will eventually forget what you've done,” Dorman said. “They will eventually forget about the things that you've said. But they'll never forget how you made 'em feel. I know Cody made you guys feel that same way. But this Moment of the Year, it's for you guys too. You guys put so much in our hearts, everybody here in this room, watching on TV, we love all you guys. We appreciate that–thank you.”

Earlier in the ceremony, victories by Arcangelo (Arrogate) in the GI Belmont S. and GI Travers S. cemented champion 3-Year-Old Male honors for owner Blue Rose Farm (Jon Ebbert) and trainer Jena Antonucci, the first woman to condition the winner of a Triple Crown race.

The Arcangelo team | NTRA

“The greatest part of this sport is you just need one special horse and a bunch of people who believe in him,” Ebbert summed up.

Although the evening was replete with heartfelt thank-yous from award winners extending gratitude that spanned everyone who planned the Thoroughbred matings all the way down to foal caretakers and daily grooms who do the daily-grind type of work behind the scenes, several recipients couldn't resist a bit of forewarning about the future while commanding the podium.

Owner and breeder Mike Repole took home the hardware for champion 2-Year-Old Male for the second consecutive season, winning with Fierceness (City of Light) after being victorious last year with Forte (Violence). After doling out thanks to his racing and bloodstock teams, Repole overstayed his allotted 60 seconds at the podium by 2 1/2 additional minutes while advocating for disruptive yet positive changes to the industry.

Repole's passion was evident. But by choosing to punctuate his remarks with f-bomb profanities while surrounded by family members and children on the stage as “exit music” got cued up in the background to encourage him to wrap it up, Repole introduced a level of coarseness that didn't mesh with the spirit and tone of the festivities.

Mike Repole | NTRA

“Right now, this sport, we're all on the Titanic, okay?” Repole said. “There's an iceberg there. But we're not hitting the iceberg yet. We need a vision. We need leadership. We need alignment. We need strategy. We need collaboration. [From] the big entities [all the way down to individuals in the sport], we've got to make this better for everybody.

“So I implore you, please, for the next two years–other than me taking more time–be selfless over selfish,” Repole said. “That's number one. [But] this is the most important message of the night: Let's [expletive] compete in the racetrack. Outside the racetrack, let's compete together for what's best for this game. I love this [expletive] game. It's going to be here a long time.”

Stuart Janney III, the chairman of The Jockey Club, was honored with the Eclipse Award of Merit for his lifetime of service to the sport. He was thankful for his broad supporting cast, but he too had words about the tenuous future of the sport.

Like Repole, Janney spoke of cooperation. But his focus emphasized one of The Jockey Club's main initiatives over the past decade, creating and empowering the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA).

“Our industry's got a lot of issues that [we need] to get in front of and solve,” Janney said. “We've now been given the tool kit. We didn't have it before. With HISA, we can go forward, but we need to go forward together…. I hope that we have learned, as an industry, the advantages of being together, and that we really do go forward in a unified fashion…. And where racing's continuation is in question, in some states, we'll work with others to hopefully find viable solutions.”

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