The Met Mile was like a typical day in Times Square. Clogged with visitors pretending to feel at home only to clear a path when they see a local who knows the place is a tourist trap. That guy just wants to blast his way through and get out of there.
Cody’s Wish was just like that local Saturday. Slow out of the gate and facing some traffic ahead of him, he found his way past one particularly aggressive interloper, circled the mob and blew his way out of sight. But definitely not out of mind.
“You could see him,” his trainer Bill Mott said after Cody’s Wish (3-5) powerfully circled the field in the turn on the way to a 3 1/4-length runaway in the Grade 1, $1 million Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park. “I think everybody here saw it, because I think a lot of people stood up. It was, uh, it was exciting.”
CODY’S WISH CAN’T BE STOPPED! ???? pic.twitter.com/NaEKp2oFT5— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) June 10, 2023
Even Mott had a hard time putting it into words. Júnior Alvarado was along for the ride once again as he has been through the 5-year-old Curlin horse’s entire six-race winning streak. That included last month’s blow-by-’em victory in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1), the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile for which he just qualified again and the Forego (G1), which might or might not be a place he could land again at Saratoga this summer.
“Obviously, he has this streak,” said farm director Michael Banahan of Godolphin, the breeder-owner of Cody’s Wish. “He’s such a popular horse with even non-racing people in the States. You sort of feel plenty of pressure with him as well, so it was a relief to win it as well as great excitement to win the race.”
The only ingredient missing Saturday was Cody Dorman, the teen-aged inspiration who befriended the yearling who would become one of the most popular horses in recent memory. Living with a genetic condition that confines him to a wheelchair and prevents him from speaking, Dorman was not trackside but, instead, back home in Kentucky watching the race on TV.
“His dad is here today,” Banahan said. “He is here representing the family, and he is super excited about that. I’m sure the whole family is back in Kentucky cheering the house down when they saw him run. Cody Dorman gave us his prediction yesterday, and he said he’s going to win again.”
Before the race it was allegorically like Cody’s Wish missed the young man who befriended him. Reminiscent of that local seeing the humanity about to engulf him in Times Square, the eye-catching bay tossed his head about while Mott’s crew put on his tack. He looked calm circling the paddock, but he got impatient in the gate after being first to load.
“He had to wait a while,” Mott said. “It looked like he got tough. It looked like the gate man had to shake his head a little bit.”
When the bell rang and the latches were sprung, Cody’s Wish (3-5) was not quite himself with a sideways first step. Not that he ever goes to an early lead. That task belonged to Dr. Schivel (14-1), who went out in 22.76 seconds before he was overtaken by Hoist the Gold (45-1), who had edged in front going into the turn after a half-mile in 45.86 seconds.
Then ... well ... just like in Kentucky last month, whoosh. Oh, there was an excuse-me moment in traffic with eventual runner-up Zandon (7-1).
“I was just trying to find my way out,” Alvarado said. “At about the half-mile pole, I found my seam, moved behind the heels of horses to get into the clear, then he turned everything on. Then I just had to get out of his way and let him do his thing. He's unbelievable.”
Now it was whoosh. Cody’s Wish circled seven of his eight rivals like they were a bunch of loitering mangy Elmos. With disbelieving spectators looking through the suddenly clean air and sunshine on a 79-degree day, they saw Cody’s Wish wheel past the quarter pole with the lead, going the first six furlongs in 1:10.16. By the time he got to the last furlong, it was four lengths, and Alvarado just enjoyed the ride.
“The key with him has always been the turn,” Alvarado said. “He picks off a lot of horses there. His ability to move well in the turn helped us today. We took advantage of the big, sweeping turn at Belmont, and it worked out unbelievably.”
The winning time was 1:34.36.
After Zandon in second, White Abarrio (20-1) made a bit of a rally to finish a head back in third. It was another 2 1/4 lengths up the track to Charge It (5-1). Dr. Schivel, Slow Down Andy (24-1), Repo Rocks (9-1), Hoist the Gold and Doppelgänger (24-1) finished fifth through ninth in that order.
So now what? Where are the Eighth Avenue and Upper West Side in this analogy? That was a question Banahan and Mott were hard-pressed to answer.
“It’s a little bit odd between now and, you know, we ran the Forego last year,” Banahan said, knowing the seven-furlong race is 2 1/2 months off. “It’s a long time. I’m not too sure.”
Banahan said it was a matter of finding a good enough race at the right distance, and there are not that many that present themselves for a Grade 1-winning one-turn miler who could cut back to a long sprint.
“We’re not in a rush to run him back,” Mott said, “but we just have to decide where we run him back.” Then Mott suggested the Whitney (G1) could be an option, even though that Aug. 5 race at Saratoga goes 1 1/8 miles. The last time Cody’s Wish lost was his second-place finish in the 2022 Challenger (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs. That was at 1 1/16 miles, the only time he has gone longer than eight furlongs.
“If we run in the Whitney, it would be a big challenge,” Mott said. “He hasn’t won around two turns. Most of his races have been between seven (furlongs) and a mile. I don’t know.”
As much as Mott may have doubts about going farther with Cody’s Wish, he also knows growth happens in steps.
“When you watch him run, you say he should be able to do it,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “But until they’ve done it, you don’t know. It’s always a question mark. I think with somebody that has done this long enough, you want to see him do it.”
No matter where he lands at Saratoga, Cody’s Wish figures to have Dorman back with him to cheer him on from the winner’s circle.
“Hopefully, he’ll get an opportunity to come up to Saratoga,” Banahan said. “Maybe it will be a little bit easier to get around.”
Certainly easier than it is to negotiate the foot traffic in Times Square. Or in the turn of the Met Mile.