In the days leading up to the 147th running of the $3 million Kentucky Derby (G1), usracing.com is profiling all the contenders. The 1 ¼-mile Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs is May 1, and the first leg of the Triple Crown. All profiles will be updated with post positions, odds, and jockeys following the draw on Tuesday, April 27.
Kentucky Derby 2021 Odds: Helium
By Ed McNamara
Mark Casse’s remarkable 42-year career has taken him to the American and Canadian Halls of Fame. Two years ago, he trained the winners of the Preakness (War of Will) and Belmont (Sir Winston). He’s had five Canadian Horses of the Year and won the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. His runners have taken five Eclipse Awards and five Breeders’ Cup events.
If unbeaten Helium (3-for-3) wins the Kentucky Derby off a 56-day layoff, it will rank among those achievements.
Authentic scored last year following a 49-day hiatus, so maybe an extra week isn’t such a big deal. Authentic, however, had a much more impressive resume, and Bob Baffert already had won the Derby five times. Needles (1956) and Animal Kingdom (2011) won it off 42-day breaks.
Helium hadn’t run since Oct. 18 before taking the Tampa Bay Derby on March 6. That’s a 140-day rest, far longer than he’ll have May 1. Shortly after his 15-1 upset, Casse decided to train Helium up to Derby 147 because he thought the hard race after a long time off might have taken too much out of him.
Jon Green, general manager of D.J. Stable, said: “We’re going to go an unconventional route and bypass the rest of the Derby preps. It’s not unreasonable in history to give a horse eight weeks off and ask him to run in a big race like this.
“It’s not perfect. Are there risks? Yes. But we feel what is best for the horse is to give him the time and slowly peak him into the Kentucky Derby.”
Problem areas: He’s raced only three times, never beyond 1 1/16 miles, and only once on dirt. He makes a quantum leap in class and never has beaten a top 3-year-old. Casse has a terrific track record, but this is a gigantic ask.
“He’s a beautiful horse,” Casse said. “He’s a perfect gentleman, does everything nice. Good mover, great attitude. He’s bred to run all day long and he looks like a Derby horse, so it’s exciting.
“He ran so well off the layoff. He’s definitely not a horse that has to run all the time.”
Kentucky Derby 2021 Entries: Helium
Post position: TBD
Trainer: Mark Casse
Jockey: Julien Leparoux
Owners: D.J. Stable
Career record: 3-3-0-0
Career earnings: $287,763
Derby qualifying points: 50 (13th)
Best Equibase speed figure: 94
Pedigree: Ironicus-Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Helium’s sire, Ironicus, was a multiple-stakes winner on the turf. His damsire, Thunder Gulch, won the Derby and Belmont in 1995 … Julien Leparoux replaces Jose Ferrer, who rode an excellent race in the Tampa Bay Derby. Leparoux is 0-for-12 in the Derby, with his best finish a fourth on Casse’s Classic Empire in 2017. That was also Casse’s best result in eight attempts … Casse also will saddle Florida Derby runner-up Soup and Sandwich, to be ridden by Tyler Gaffalione.