Kentucky Derby Context: Helium

April 18th, 2021 horse racing analyst James Scully attended his first Kentucky Derby in 1981. Along with a brief profile of this year’s contenders, he is providing some historical context.

After rallying to win the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), Helium will make his second start of the year in the Kentucky Derby.

He will return from an eight-week layoff on May 1. Once an unconventional strategy, long periods of rest between starts has become more common for Kentucky Derby contenders in this era.

In 2016, Destin bypassed the final round of prep races after winning Tampa Bay Derby. He checked in sixth in the first leg of the Triple Crown. And prior to the Kentucky Derby being postponed last year, the connections of Tampa Bay Derby victor King Guillermo announced plans to train up to the first Saturday in May.

By skipping the final round of prep races, Helium will make his first start past 1 1/16 miles in the 1 1/4-mile Run for the Roses.

Mark Casse trains for Leonard Green’s D.J. Stable, and Julien Leparoux will pick up the mount in the Kentucky Derby.

Helium will bring a 3-for-3 record to the Kentucky Derby post parade, winning a maiden special weight and the seven-furlong Display S. on Woodbine’s Tapeta track last fall. The bay colt made a seamless transition to dirt and a two-turn distance in the Tampa Bay Derby, overcoming an extremely wide trip to prove best by 3/4-lengths.

From the first crop of the multiple stakes-winning turf millionaire Ironicus, Helium has a connection to Kentucky Derby glory through his broodmare sire, Thunder Gulch, who captured the 1995 edition.

Thunder Gulch was a top contender after wins in the Fountain of Youth S. (G2) and Florida Derby (G1), but he was overlooked at 24-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby following a disappointing fourth as the 13-10 favorite in the Blue Grass S. (G2).

Helium figures to be a longshot, as well, in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.