Codey, with his talent and his courage, has carried them to the heights - seven straight stakes victories, and then the Haskell Invitational two months ago, in which he ran Belmont Stakes winner Bet Twice and Kentucky Derby winner Alysheba to a near draw. (Bet Twice won the race.)
But Codey also has been with the Donovans at the bottom, in the pits, practically flat busted. Early this year, Donovan was brushed off when he requested stalls in Maryland, and he had to borrow $2,000 to ship the horse to Alabama.
Lost Code, a son of 1980 Preakness winner Codex, also was in the pits; it did not appear that he would be worth his $30,000 purchase price. That was all of eight months and 10 races ago.
Codey redeemed himself, though, and turned around his and the Donovans' fortunes. "No one would ever believe the anxiety and the joy that we've felt
because of Codey," Bill Donovan said. "Every time I think about him, I get tears in my eyes."
On Sunday, Lost Code will be looking for his first victory since the Grade I Arlington Classic in July. But he has been running with some of the best horses in the country since then.
He finished third to the classics winners in Monmouth Park's Haskell, third against older horses in the Iselin Handicap at Monmouth and, most recently, second to Cryptoclearance in the Meadowlands' Pegasus Handicap on Sept. 19. All were Grade I races.
Donovan said that after such a rigorous schedule, he thought Codey might have reached his peak. But then he sent Codey onto Philadelphia Park's track Tuesday afternoon for a pre-Derby workout.
Under regular jockey Gene St. Leon, Lost Code breezed through the work effortlessly. He completed five furlongs in :59 1/5 and galloped out three- quarters of a mile in 1:11 4/5, while St. Leon slowed him.
"That was the greatest work he's put in," Donovan said. "Gene was
The trainer said he has come up with another nickname for Lost Code. He calls him "America's Horse."
True, Codey has seen a lot of America. He has won four races with "derby" in their names. He took the Alabama Derby, the Illinois Derby, the Ohio Derby and the Saint Paul (Minn.) Derby. He will be going for Derby No. 5 in the Grade II Pennsylvania Derby.
But Donovan did not select the nickname because of Lost Code's travels. ''Everywhere he's gone, he's fulfilled everyone's dreams," the trainer said. From all over the country, Lost Code gets fan mail.
He also possesses many of the qualities identified with the American spirit: His has been a race-horse version of Horatio Alger's success story.
He may not be the most talented horse, but his guts and determination make up for any deficiency. "He's so willing," Donovan said. "He never lets up. After the Pegasus, I thought maybe his best races were behind him. Then he comes back 10 days later stronger than ever."
After the Haskell, no one could question Codey's courage. Bet Twice, the eventual winner, hooked him at the top of the stretch, and they battled all the way to the wire. Alysheba came on to get second, but Codey was only a quarter-length behind Bet Twice.
Codey bears another resemblance to an Alger-style protagonist. He has, by hard work and determination, pulled himself out of poverty.
Lost Code looked as if he was destined to be a cheap-plater. But his lungs bled after his first start at Alabama's Birmingham Turf Club in March, and he was treated with the anti-bleeding medication Lasix in his subsequent starts.
The diuretic worked like a magic elixir that unlocked his talents, which had been compromised by the bleeding. Codey then went on a tear across America with seven straight stakes wins.
After the Haskell, Donovan said, he made a mistake by running Codey in the Iselin. "He had run his heart out in the Haskell," he said. "I probably should have skipped the Iselin and gone on to the Pegasus. But the people at Monmouth had been so sweet to us that I wanted to do something for them and run the horse."
Codey bounced back after the Iselin and trained smartly for the Pegasus. He finished 3 1/2 lengths behind Cryptoclearance, who was running at the top of his form.
Although Lost Code has finished in the money in his last 10 starts, he is not a running machine. Donovan conceded that it has been a day-by-day battle to keep Codey's legs in good running order.
"He's a tough horse. He has more resiliency than any horse I've ever seen," Donovan said.