OLDSMAR, Fla. – Trainer Mark Casse said HELIUM emerged in good order from his 15-1 victory Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby and that the Ironicus colt is unlikely to race again prior to the May 1 Kentucky Derby.
Helium, making his first start in nearly five months and just his third overall, fended off a sustained run from HIDDEN STASH in remaining unbeaten for DJ Stable and Casse in the annual Tampa signature event.
“It’s not 100 percent that we’ll go straight to the Derby, but that’s the way we’re leaning,” Casse said early Sunday from his Ocala farm. “The horse showed he can be effective off a layoff, and that race had to take something out of him, even though he was barely blowing afterward. I’d hate to rush him back just for the sake of getting another race into him.”
Helium was not among the 326 3-year-olds nominated to the 2021 Triple Crown by a Jan. 23 deadline, but Casse said DJ Stable intends to pay the $6,000 fee by March 29 to make the colt eligible. DJ Stable is the nom de course of Leonard Green, a longtime owner and breeder with some 35 years in the sport, and the stable is managed by his son, Jon Green.
Casse noted that Helium was making his first start on dirt and first around two turns when emerging victorious Saturday despite a difficult trip. Ridden by Jose Ferrer, the colt was sluggish at the break and was ahead of just one of his 11 opponents under the wire the first time. He then was wide on both turns, swooping to command at the top of the stretch before turning back Hidden Stash under an aggressive hand ride from Ferrer.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, 40 years,” said Casse, “and that was one of the more amazing feats I’ve ever had a horse pull off. He’s had so many curveballs thrown at him already.”
Helium earned 50 qualifying points toward the Kentucky Derby and therefore will safely make the 20-horse cutoff. The colt was back at his Palm Meadows base by about midnight Eastern on Saturday night, said Casse, and will remain there until sometime around early to mid-April.
“I’d like to get a couple works in him at Churchill Downs before the Derby,” said Casse.
Meanwhile, trainer Vicki Oliver said Hidden Stash probably goes next in the April 3 Blue Grass, a 100-40-20-10 qualifier at Keeneland. The BBN Racing colt now has 22 points and probably could use a few more to be assured of a starting berth.
Saturday was a huge day for Tampa, with four other stakes being run on a 12-race card. The all-sources handle of more than $15.2 million was an all-time track record.