June 24, 2024

Cody’s Wish fulfills destiny as 2023 Horse of the Year

Cody's Wish wins the Churchill Downs S. (G1) (Photo by Coady Photography)

Racing’s sentimental hero has now become an official champion in the record book, as Cody’s Wish was named Horse of the Year and champion older dirt male at Thursday night’s 53rd Eclipse Awards gala at The Breakers Palm Beach.

Team Cody’s Wish racked up other awards as well. Godolphin continued its dominance of the outstanding owner and breeder categories, and another homebred, Pretty Mischievous, was honored as champion three-year-old filly. Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who collected a fourth Eclipse as outstanding trainer, conditioned a total of three champions including juvenile filly Just F Y I and repeat sprint titleholder Elite Power.

Elite Power was one of a pair of champions for Juddmonte, along with older dirt female Idiomatic. Repole Stable likewise celebrated two Eclipse Award winners – homebred Fierceness in the juvenile male division and turf male champ Up to the Mark (campaigned in partnership with St. Elias Stables), both trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher.

Champions were determined by first-place votes cast by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form, and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters. A total of 219 of 250 eligible voters participated.

Cody’s Wish also won the NTRA’s Moment of the Year, in a public online vote, for the second straight season. Fans have been deeply touched by his heartwarming relationship with his namesake, Cody Dorman, who suffered from Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. Cody passed away the day after watching his beloved horse defend his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) crown.

When the Godolphin homebred was just a weanling, he met young Cody as part of a Make-a-Wish event at Gainsborough Farm. The colt immediately bonded with Cody. Later, the kindly team at Godolphin arranged another visit that renewed their extraordinary connection, and lifted the boy’s spirits at an especially difficult time.

Named in his honor, Cody’s Wish didn’t break his maiden until Cody and his family were on the scene to watch him at Churchill Downs. As he ultimately developed into an outstanding performer in 2023 and 2024, the Dorman family was inextricably woven into his racing career.

Cody’s Wish had long displayed the heart and intelligence of a champion, and the more he achieved on the track, the more he proved himself a champion in fact.

The Horse of the Year result was tipped when NTRA President Tom Rooney invited Kylie Dorman, Cody’s sister, to make the announcement.

“You’ll never hear Tom Hanks say there’s no crying in horse racing,” said Cody’s father, Kelly, in a poignant acceptance speech on behalf of Godolphin.

Cody’s Wish – Horse of the Year, Champion Older Dirt Male

Cody’s Wish’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

After finishing the previous season on a strong note, Cody’s Wish upped his game in 2023, delivering four stakes wins from five starts to earn Horse of the Year and champion older horse honors. The exciting closer won major events during the spring, reeling off convincing Grade 1 wins in the Metropolitan S. and Churchill Downs S., and he concluded his racing career with a stirring title defense in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Bill Mott directed the Godolphin homebred son of Curlin, and Cody’s Wish earned $3,106,930 from a 16-11-1-4 record.

The late bloomer didn’t make his career debut until the summer of his three-year-old season and after needing four starts to break his maiden, Cody’s Wish proceeded to win 11 of his next 13 races. His pedigree suggested longer distances, but the bay horse proved his excellence at distances up to a mile.

After finishing a close second in his first stakes attempt, the 1 1/16-mile Challenger S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs in March 2022, Cody’s Wish cut back to a one-turn mile with victories in the Westchester (G3) at Belmont Park and Hanshin S. at Churchill Downs. Next came his first Grade 1 success, the seven-furlong Forego (G1) at Saratoga, and Cody’s Wish began to gain national headlines when wrapping up the year with a gutsy head score over Cyberknife in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Keeneland.

He was odds-on in all five starts in 2023, stretching the win streak to seven with smashing wins in the Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby (G1) undercard and Met Mile on the Belmont S. (G1) undercard. Those performance put the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) under consideration, but Cody’s Wish squashed those notions with a non-threatening third in the 1 1/8-mile Whitney (G1) at Saratoga.

The Vosburgh (G2) at Aqueduct provided a comfortable rebound spot a couple months later, as Cody’s Wish cruised to an easy win over seven furlongs, and the classy performer went out in style in the Dirt Mile at Santa Anita, delivering a thrilling late run to deny National Treasure by nose on the wire. His one-turn proficiency made him a finalist in the male sprinter category as well, but stablemate Elite Power was a more straightforward choice given his six-furlong record.

Cody’s Wish retired to Darley, where he commands a $75,000 stud fee.

HORSE OF THE YEAR FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP 4)
CODY’S WISH134
White Abarrio37
Idiomatic21
Up to the Mark 9
OLDER DIRT MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES
CODY’S WISH148
White Abarrio65
Elite Power5
Defunded1

Fierceness – Champion Two-Year-Old Male

Fierceness’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Believing his poor performance in the Champagne (G1) as an odds-on choice was not a true bill, owner-breeder Mike Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher forged ahead to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Santa Anita with Fierceness. Not only did the son of City of Light justify the confidence, but delivered a devastating 6 1/4-length victory at odds of 16-1, which raised little doubt regarding the leading two-year-old in the country. Fierceness cracked the triple-digit Brisnet Speed rating barrier twice, earning a 101 for his 11 1/4-length maiden score at Saratoga in the mud going six furlongs, and then a superb 112 in winning the Juvenile over a fast-track 1 1/16 miles. The one anomaly on his CV thus far was the Champagne in the slop at Aqueduct, in which he made little impact and was not persevered with late, finishing some 20 lengths behind Timberlake in seventh. The Kentucky-bred, the early favorite for the 150th Kentucky Derby in May, is scheduled to make his stakes debut in the Holy Bull (G3) at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 3.

TWO-YEAR-OLD MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
FIERCENESS205
Big Evs4

Just F Y I – Champion Two-Year-Old Filly

Just F Y I’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Never favored in any of her three starts during her freshman campaign, Just F Y I nonetheless displayed an impeccable will to win and was duly crowned best of the nation’s two-year-old fillies. One of three division champions trained by Bill Mott, Just F Y I was along in time to capture her debut by a head at Saratoga going six furlongs in late August. Stretched out to a mile for the Frizette (G1) at Aqueduct in October, Just F Y I enjoyed another ideal stalk-and-pounce trip and won going away by 3 3/4 lengths while simultaneously displaying her versatility in handling sloppy conditions with aplomb. An underrated 7-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita over 1 1/16 miles, Just F Y I made the lead in deep stretch and just held on from a closing Jody’s Pride to win the division’s signature event by a neck. Owned and bred by George Kirkorian, the daughter of Justify recorded her first workout of the season on Jan. 15 at Payson Park.

TWO-YEAR-OLD FILLY FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
JUST F Y I202
Hard to Justify9

Arcangelo – Champion Three-Year-Old Male

Arcangelo’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Although not quite as late a bloomer as his father Arrogate, who won the three-year-old title in 2016, Arcangelo is one of those rare colts to have secured division laurels despite not having been ready to compete in either of the first two classics. Fourth to eventual Louisiana Derby (G2) winners Kingsbarns in his Jan. 14 debut at Gulfstream, Arcangelo was better for the experience two months later when graduating by 3 1/2 lengths over the same one-mile distance. The remainder of his brief career was spent in stakes, starting with a stirring head victory in the nine-furlong Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont in mid-May. Next came the 1 1/2-mile Belmont S. (G1), in which he provided racing with one of its best moments of the year. For trainer Jena Antonucci, his 1 1/2-length triumph over 2022 juvenile champion Forte was the first in an American classic for a female trainer. Arcangelo was similarly on his game for what proved to be his final career start in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga. Opening a big lead in the stretch, the gray won with plenty in reserve by one length. Owned by Jon Ebbert’s Blue Rose Farm, Arcangelo suffered a condylar fracture while training for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and was retired to Lane’s End Farm, where he will take up stallion duties for a fee of $35,000 live foal.

THREE-YEAR-OLD MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
ARCANGELO193
Auguste Rodin21

Pretty Mischievous – Champion Three-Year-Old Filly

Pretty Mischievous’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Pretty Mischievous added to the Godolphin operation’s trophy haul by running away with champion three-year-old filly honors. Her landslide vote total was bigger than any of her wins on the track, but the homebred accomplished more than her rivals while compiling an admirably consistent record. Trained by Brendan Walsh, Pretty Mischievous ended her promising juvenile year with a breakout score in the 2022 Untapable S. at Fair Grounds, and she made it two straight in her 2023 bow in the Rachel Alexandra (G2). After she was surprisingly overturned in the Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), the daughter of leading sire Into Mischief responded to blinkers and proceeded to win three straight majors in the division. Pretty Mischievous captured the Kentucky Oaks (G1), battled bravely on the cutback to one turn in the Acorn (G1), and inherited the Test (G1) when Maple Leaf Mel tragically broke down. A fine second in the Cotillion (G1) at a sloppy, speed-favoring Parx, Pretty Mischievous was scratched from the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1). Plans call for her to start gearing up for her four-year-old campaign at Palm Meadows.

THREE-YEAR-OLD FILLY FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
PRETTY MISCHIEVOUS182
Randomized24

Idiomatic – Champion Older Dirt Female

Idiomatic’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

A surprise of the 2023 season was the ultimate dominance by the physically imposing Idiomatic in the older dirt female division. Based at Turfway Park last winter and eligible for a first-level allowance when the year began, the Brad Cox-trained daughter of Curlin would prove the most active of the year’s champions when winning eight of nine starts. Kicking off her campaign with three straight wins over Turfway’s Tapeta surface, including the Latonia S. in her stakes debut, Idiomatic next suffered her lone setback of the year when a distant second in the Ruffian (G2) at Belmont. She was back in winning form next out in the Shawnee (G3) at Churchill Downs and then overcame an early stumble to win the historic (though distance reduced) Delaware H. (G2) by a head. Her next two scores, in the Personal Ensign (G1) and Spinster (G1), were far more comfortable affairs, but she had to dig a little deeper to repel three-year-old rival Randomized by a half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Santa Anita as the 9-5 favorite. The five-year-old Idiomatic will stay in training this year.

OLDER DIRT FEMALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
IDIOMATIC211
Goodnight Olive4

Up to the Mark – Champion Turf Male

Up to the Mark’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables’ Up to the Mark was becoming a puzzling underachiever on dirt, but the switch to turf in 2023 revealed his star quality. Bursting onto the scene with a pair of allowance tallies at Gulfstream Park last winter, the Todd Pletcher trainee was left too much to do when a belated third in the Maker’s Mark Mile (G1). Up to the Mark benefited from added ground, and better tactics, to dominate his foes in the 1 1/8-mile Turf Classic (G1) on Kentucky Derby Day and the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Day. By racking up emphatic margins in both, the son of Not This Time established himself as one of the most dynamic American-based turf males of the modern era. Up to the Mark’s path of conquest was temporarily halted by a summer setback, but he resumed to win the Coolmore Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland in dramatic fashion, nipping Master of the Seas on the wire. That victory arguably sealed his Eclipse Award, since Master of the Seas came back to land the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) for the international powerhouse Godolphin operation. Up to the Mark stretched out to try the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), where his second to Ballydoyle superstar Auguste Rodin reiterated his world-class form. Up to the Mark’s overall U.S. resume was robust enough to carry the day with the Eclipse electorate. Retired to stud at Lane’s End, Up to the Mark will stand for $25,000, stands and nurses.

TURF MALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
UP TO THE MARK141
Auguste Rodin60

Inspiral – Champion Turf Female

Inspiral’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

British invader Inspiral’s whirlwind rally in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) was enough to clinch the divisional title in a season that lacked domestic clarity. By world phenom Frankel, the Cheveley Stud homebred becomes the latest U.S. champion trained by John Gosden. Bates Motel, the champion handicap male of 1983, and Royal Heroine, the champion turf female of 1984, came during his Southern California sojourn. Another distaff turf honoree, Ryafan (1997), was launched from Gosden’s British base before transferring to Bobby Frankel for her finale. Inspiral, Europe’s co-highweight champion two-year-old filly of 2021, missed the 2022 classics but added two more Group 1 laurels that summer to become a champion at three as well. Again taking time to come to hand in 2023, Inspiral was just denied in her Royal Ascot comeback in the Queen Anne (G1), and floundered on bottomless ground in the Sussex (G1). She finished her campaign strongly, however, with a hat trick – a repeat in the Prix Jacques le Marois (G1), a resounding display in the Sun Chariot (G1), and her sublime late kick in the Breeders’ Cup, her first venture beyond a mile. Inspiral thereby opened up new horizons at the 1 1/4-mile trip, giving racing fans more to savor as she returns in 2024.

TURF FEMALE FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
INSPIRAL112
In Italian50

Elite Power – Champion Male Sprinter

Elite Power’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

The marvelous Elite Power was retired to Juddmonte in November after securing for himself and the illustrious farm a second consecutive champion male sprinter title. The Bill Mott-trained son of Curlin is the first horse to repeat as division champion since Roy H (2017-18) while joining such other distinguished luminaries as Hall of Fame inductees Housebuster, Dr. Fager, and the filly Ta Wee. Elite Power won four of five starts in 2023, kicking off the year with a 3 1/4-length win over Gunite in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3) in Saudi Arabia. After winning the True North (G2) in June, Elite Power would face Gunite three more times. After defeating him by a head in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1), Elite Power saw that form reversed by 1 3/4 lengths in the Forego (G1) going seven furlongs, a distance Gunite tended to prefer. Elite Power was also conceding Gunite six pounds in the Forego but met him for a final time at level weights in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Santa Anita. In that six-furlong dash, Elite Power overpowered his erstwhile rival by 1 1/2 lengths after turning in his patented late kick. Elite Power will stand for a fee of $50,000 live foal.

MALE SPRINTER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
ELITE POWER183
Cody’s Wish35

Goodnight Olive – Champion Female Sprinter

Goodnight Olive’s lifetime past performances courtesy of Brisnet

After emulating Groupie Doll as the only two-time winners of the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1), Goodnight Olive completed the parallel by earning a second straight divisional Eclipse Award. She rewarded the patience of her connections – First Row Partners and Team Hanley – and trainer Chad Brown, who had to nurse her through physical issues earlier in her career. Brown had been around Goodnight Olive’s sire, Hall of Famer Ghostzapper, during his time with the late, great Bobby Frankel, adding a special layer of meaning to her success. Crowning her perfect 2022 season in the Filly & Sprint at Keeneland, Goodnight Olive extended her winning skein to seven in the April 8 Madison (G1) at the same venue. She then endured a frustrating loss in the Derby City Distaff (G1), where she never saw daylight on the inside as a bottled-up third. Back in the win column in the Bed o’Roses (G2), Goodnight Olive mounted a title defense in the Ballerina (G1). Lying in wait was her premier opponent, former champion two-year-old filly Echo Zulu, who used her warp early speed to maximum effect. Goodnight Olive did her best in a race shape that didn’t play to her strengths, trying to go with Echo Zulu early, and she lost no honor in a clear second. Following Echo Zulu’s career-ending injury, Goodnight Olive was the undisputed sprint queen going into the Breeders’ Cup, and she duly rolled from just off the pace. Her next appearance was in the ring at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November, where Goodnight Olive sold for $6 million to John Stewart. Her new owner indicated that she’d return to Brown, with a Breeders’ Cup three-peat attempt possibly on the cards.

FEMALE SPRINTER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
GOODNIGHT OLIVE140
Echo Zulu72

Merry Maker – Champion Steeplechaser

Merry Maker’s U.S. past performances courtesy of Brisnet

The tightest Eclipse race of all involved the steeplechasers, with different horses winning the marquee events, and no standout European shipper to save the day. Voters ended up giving the nod to the Archibald Kingsley-trained Merry Maker over Snap Decision, who couldn’t manage to deliver his best on the big occasions. Irish import Merry Maker hardly looked like championship material at Saratoga, checking in a distant third in the Jonathan Kiser Novice S. and fourth in the Jonathan Sheppard (NSA-G1). But the Hurricana Farm colorbearer improved to spring a 15-1 upset in the Lonesome Glory (NSA-G1) at Aqueduct, and he was best of the rest to mudlark Noah and the Ark in the Grand National (NSA-G1) over yielding ground at Far Hills.

STEEPLECHASER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
MERRY MAKER69
Snap Decision50

Godolphin – Outstanding Owner and Breeder

For the third consecutive year, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin swept the owner and breeder categories at the Eclipse Awards. Godolphin topped the owner and breeder standings by earnings in 2023, leading all breeders with 29 graded stakes wins and 10 Grade 1 triumphs, and the international organization has now won or tied for seven Eclipse Awards for leading owner and four for leading breeder. The bond between their homebred Cody’s Wish and his namesake, the late Cody Dorman, proved special, and other notables to wear the royal blue Godolphin silks in 2023 included champion three-year-old filly Pretty Mischievous and Grade 1 winners Master of the Seas, Matareya, Mawj, and Wet Paint.

OWNER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
GODOLPHIN191
Klaravich Stables7
BREEDER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP THREE)
GODOLPHIN202
Calumet Farm 3
Brereton C. Jones3

Bill Mott – Outstanding Trainer

Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott earned his fourth Eclipse Award following a banner 2023 season, conditioning three champions, including Horse of the Year Cody’s Wish. Mott, who turned 70 last July, accumulated the most stable earnings ($17.43 million) during his illustrious career, and he became just the fourth individual to train three champions during the same season, joining fellow Hall of Famers Bob Baffert, D. Wayne Lukas, and Todd Pletcher (twice). Mott compiled 24 graded stakes wins during 2023, including 10 Grade 1s, and along with champions Elite Power and Just F Y I, other notable runners included Art Collector, Casa Creed, and War Like Goddess. He previously won the Eclipse Award in 1995, 1996, and 2011.

TRAINER FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
BILL MOTT132
Brad Cox60

Irad Ortiz Jr. – Outstanding Jockey

Along with leading all jockeys by wins (366), graded stakes (42) and Grade 1 wins (15) in 2023, Irad Ortiz Jr. established a new single-season record with $39,192,585 in mount earnings, and he was recognized with his second consecutive Eclipse Award, and fifth overall, for leading jockey. A 31-year-old native of Puerto Rico, Ortiz piloted three Breeders’ Cup race winners, including $6 million Classic hero White Abarrio, and served as the regular rider aboard champions Elite Power, Goodnight Olive, and Up to the Mark. Ortiz won three straight Eclipse Awards from 2018-20.

JOCKEY FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
IRAD ORTIZ JR.187
Javier Castellano17

Axel Concepcion – Outstanding Apprentice Jockey

Axel Concepcion, winner of the spring meet title at Laurel Park, captured the Eclipse Award for leading apprentice jockey. The 18-year-old native of Puerto Rico led all apprentices by wins and mount earnings in 2023. Concepcion won his first U.S. race at Fair Grounds in January, his initial stakes win came at Laurel Park in August, and he finished the year strong at Turfway Park, booting home 19 winners to finish second in the holiday meet standings.

APPRENTICE JOCKEY FIRST-PLACE VOTES (TOP TWO)
AXEL CONCEPCION166
Sofia Vives16

Additional awards

Iconic racing broadcaster Tom Hammond was honored with the Special Eclipse Award for Career Excellence.

Stuart S. Janney III received an Eclipse Award of Merit for his lifetime contributions as an owner/breeder and Thoroughbred industry leader.

Paul Calia, winner of the NTRA National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), was awarded the Eclipse as Horseplayer of the Year.

Media honorees accepted Eclipse Awards in the following categories:

Writing – Feature/Commentary – Tim Layden, NBCSports.com, “Maple Leaf Mel and the long arc of a horse racing tragedy,” Nov. 1, 2023

Writing- News Enterprise – Sean Clancy, The Saratoga Special – “The Worst Test,” Aug. 6, 2023

Live Television Programming – NBC Sports – “The Breeders’ Cup World Championships,” Nov. 3-4, 2023; Lindsay Schanzer, Senior Producer

Feature Television Programming – Woodbine Entertainment: “SECRETARIAT The Last Race,” – Oct. 8, 2023. Airing on TSN (The Sports Network) in Canada. Tammy Gillanders, Producer

Audio/Multimedia – TDN Writers’ Room Podcast – “Wade and Carson Yost,” September 20, 2023; Susan Finley, Publisher, Thoroughbred Daily News

Photography – Carolyn Simancik – “Trading Horse Paint,” (Cody’s Wish/National Treasure battle in Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile), The Press Box, Nov. 4, 2023