HOW HE GOT HERE
Lightly raced Helium has certainly not taken a traditional path to the Derby, but he qualified when he was an upset winner of the Tampa Bay Derby. He started his career in a maiden special weight race at 7 Furlongs at Woodbine on Tapeta back in September. He broke well while keeping rail position that day. He drew even with a leader on the turn, then looked the 4-5 favorite in the eye, and powered home as a much the best winner that day.
That effort earned him a birth in the Display Stakes three weeks later. This race was also at 7 Furlongs on synthetic at Woodbine, and he was the betting favorite that day. Once again, he broke cleanly, and settled just off the early lead. He rolled up three wide on the turn and blew by the early leader, opening up on the rest of the field and winning by 4+ lengths.
After two promising efforts, we wouldn’t see Helium on track again until March 6th, when he was entered as a part of a full field in the Tampa Bay Derby. He was a shade slow into stride when breaking from the ten hole. He was widest off all on the first turn, being floated out into the four path. He made steady gains down the backstretch and made his move going wide into the second turn as well. He was headed by Hidden Stash, before repelling that challenger and drawing away to win by just under a length. `
HOW HE FITS HERE
Helium passed his first test on a traditional dirt surface, winning a graded stakes contest with a full field, while likely traveling more distance than anyone else in that race. He showed tactical early speed while sprinting on a synthetic surface, but rallied from off the pace in his only two turn dirt test. He’s an undefeated colt who has shown some versatility and tenacity, two characteristics that I think a Derby horse needs to have.
From a pedigree standpoint, he’s sired by Ironicus, who was a multiple graded stakes winner on the turf, with his best races coming at 1 Mile and 1/16, the same distance of the Tampa Bay Derby. He did finish second on the grass at 10 Furlongs in the Manhattan, and also broke his maiden on the main track. His dam, Thundering Emilia, sired by Derby winner Thunder Gulch, competed in graded stakes, mostly on turf, but also ran in some main track races. Looking at this pedigree though, there’s not a lot convincing me that 1 Mile and ¼ on the main track will be a distance where he will flourish.
From a competition standpoint, his speed figures are significantly lower than the horses that won every other serious Derby prep. Despite his last race looking very impressive visually, the competition he beat was weak and the time was slow. He’s only run three times, and only once as a three year old. Mark Casse intentionally kept him out of another prep race, in favor of training up to the Derby. He has been working well enough over the surface, but I haven’t seen evidence in his workouts that would leave to me believe that his Beyer figures are going to jump 15+ points to get him near a top three finish.
HOW IT FIGURES TO GO HERE
I’m not exactly sure what Julien Leparoux’s plan will be when riding this horse for the first time in the Derby. He doesn’t appear quick enough to rate off the early leaders, especially if there is a decent pace being set. However, I don’t think being near the back of the pack will be ideal for him in this spot either. While that trip worked against a mediocre field at best for a Grade 2 Derby Prep, I don’t see rallying with an overland journey being a successful gambit in the Derby. I think the best case scenario would involve being able to settle midpack, inside of horses like Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie, who may be trying to work out the same trip. However, even with the perfect trip, I’m not convinced that he is capable of winning this race.
He’s an undefeated horse that has a win in a Derby prep race, so he might wind up taking a little more money than he should, so I’m not certain you’ll be able to get fair value in him in the win pools. He will likely be 30-1 or 50-1 on the morning line, and I would expect his final odds to be in that general neighborhood. In my opinion, he hasn’t proven that he’s fast enough to win a race like this. I’m also questioning the lack of foundation he has going into the Derby. I don’t that he’s only had one start in the beginning of March and that he’s training up to the Derby, especially from a horse that only raced twice as a two year old. It’s hard for me to believe he has the ability to win a race of this stature at this moment in time. Although he may fit into a race profile that could be decent for this race, I don’t see him hitting the board. He’s one that may prove to be a very talented runner on multiple surfaces down the road, but he will not be on any of my tickets on Derby Day.