Helium withstood a challenge from Hidden Stash and prevailed by a nearly length in Saturday’s $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), joining the Kentucky Derby picture with a 15-1 upset. The Mark Casse-trained colt improved to 3-for-3 in his three-year-old opener.
Last seen winning the seven-furlong Display S. on Woodbine’s Tapeta in mid-October, Helium was making his dirt and two-turn debut. Jose Ferrer was up for owner D.J. Stable, and the bay colt completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:43.55.
“He trained well enough (over the winter) that we thought he deserved a chance,” Casse said. “Again, I have to give so much credit to Nick Tomlinson who had him down at Palm Meadows for us. We had thought about running in (Saturday’s) Gotham (G3) and thought, if we’re going to try the dirt, let’s run him close to home. It worked well for us.”
Helium likely stamped his Kentucky Derby ticket in the Tampa Bay Derby, which awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale as a qualifying race, but he will have to be a late nominee by March 29 after missing the first deadline.
The trip wasn’t ideal. Helium got away slowly from his outside post and traveled extremely wide into the first turn. He advanced closer along the backstretch and took the overland route while launching a strong move into contention on the far turn.
Helium surged off the far turn to a short lead, but Hidden Stash was rallying into contention and nearly drew even to his outside in midstretch. But Helium had more in reserve and outkicked his rival to the wire.
“On the backside, I had all kind of horse under me, and I could see who had more horse and when I set him down at the three-eighths pole, I could see I had a chance,” Ferrer said. “I just had so much horse and he flew down the lane. Then I think he got by himself and kind of got bored and he thought, game over. But I still had plenty of horse (when Hidden Stash challenged in the stretch) and he re-broke again.”
Hidden Stash, the 3-1 second choice in the 12-horse field, was 3 3/4 lengths clear of 34-1 outsider Moonlite Strike in third. It was another 2 1/2 lengths to 21-1 Unbridled Honor in fourth.
Next came King of Dreams, Awesome Gerry, Sittin On Go, Boca Boy, My Liberty, Super Strong, 8-5 favorite Candy Man Rocket, and Promise Keeper.
Helium is from the first crop of Ironicus, a multiple Grade 2-scoring millionaire on turf. The Kentucky-bred colt is out of turf stakes winner Thundering Emilia, a Group 1 runner-up in Peru, and Helium counts Group 1 Peruvian winner Emilia’s Moon as a half-sister.
Bred by Teneri Farm and Bernardo Alvarez Calderon, Helium sold $55,000 as a yearling at the 2019 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October sale.
“There is a lot of room for improvement,” Casse said. “What was amazing is that he wasn’t overly exhausted after the race. He’s a beautiful horse, he’s bred to run all day long and he looks like a Derby horse, so it’s exciting.”