by Danny Brewer

The time is here to think Kentucky Derby. Which horse are you riding?…What’s that…you don’t know who to pick?…Here is one to consider and he might just provide a nice payday should things go his way on May 1.

One of the best ways to determine your selection is find a runner that is ready. Obviously talent is very important, but having their horse in peak form for the first Saturday in May is every trainer’s goal. One of those blossoming three-year olds that appears to be on the rise is Helium.

Running out of the Mark Casse barn, Helium stamped himself as a contender with an ultra-impressive run in winning the Tampa Bay Derby on March 6. Coming from off the pace, this son of Ironicus made a 5 wide move at the top of the stretch and captured the lead. Running with a dogged determination down the lane, this grandson of 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch gamely held on to win by ¾ of a length.

The margin of victory was certainly not great, but the way in which he won was what impressed all including his conditioner.

“That was one of the most incredible performances I have seen during my 40 years in this game”, says Casse, who won the 2019 Preakness (War of Will) and Belmont Stakes (Sir Winston). “He had so many things go against him but still found a way to win. The biggest thing was the wide trip which means he ran a lot further than the rest of the horses.”

Another factor that makes the Tamp performance freakish is the fact it was his first start on dirt. The first two races for Helium came during his two-year old season as he won seven furlong events on the synthetic all weather track at Woodbine in Ontario, Canada. In September of 2020 he won by 3 ¼ lengths and then followed that with a 4 ¼ length win in October. Shipping to Tampa for the first start of his three-year old season, Helium gassed the competition with that huge run.

“His works had told us he deserved a shot on the dirt”, says Casse. “We knew he had plenty of talent and his pedigree says grass, but he had given us plenty of signs that says he can be great no matter what surface he runs on. We couldn’t have been more happy with how he performed at Tampa.”

Old school Kentucky Derby thinkers have always thought horses needed to race four to five weeks before the big day. Training has changed in recent times and many of those old “do’s” and “don’t do’s” have been put out to pasture. Knowing his horse and understanding the sport he has been involved in since the mid 1970’s, Casse has decided to train Helium up to the Derby and not run him until that first Saturday in May.

“He came out of the Tampa Bay Derby in great shape and we are cranking him back up now,” says the eleven time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s top Thoroughbred trainer. “We know he fires well off the bench and we thought it would be better for him to just train instead of racing again.”

In covering the mile and a sixteenth at Tampa in 1:43.55, Helium earned 50 qualifying points. That currently has him sitting 15th on the list with the top 20 earning a berth in the starting gates. Barring some majorly unforeseen happenings in the Arkansas Derby on April 10, that should be enough to get Casse’s charge into the starting gates.

“We feel as if he is headed in the right direction”, says Casse. “Helium is doing very weel and will be at Churchill Downs this week to start settling in.He will be ready to run on the first Saturday in May.”