Although Tampa Bay Derby (G2) upsetter Helium was not an early nominee to the Triple Crown, the Kentucky-bred has a pedigree filled with classic influences.
Helium is a grandson of Distorted Humor,
who has been prominent on the 2021 Kentucky Derby (G1) trail as the broodmare sire of Life Is Good (Pedigree Fun Facts)
and Risk Taking (Pedigree Fun Facts)
. Unlike those contenders who are out of daughters of Distorted Humor, Helium descends from his male line, via Distorted Humor’s son Ironicus
An accomplished turf performer, Ironicus captured the 2015 Dixie (now renamed the Dinner Party) (G2) at Pimlico and Bernard Baruch (G2), the latter in a course-record 1:38.54 for 1 1/16 miles on Saratoga’s Mellon turf course. In 2016, Ironicus added the Fort Marcy (G3), placed second to champion Flintshire in the Manhattan (G1), and just missed to Miss Temple City in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1). He concluded his career with a fourth to Tourist and Tepin in the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) at Santa Anita.
Ironicus entered stud in 2017, so Helium is proving a vital first-crop advertisement. The young sire is trying to establish himself amid a fiercely competitive stallion market – hence his bargain $5,000 stud fee, despite his racing talent backed up by a blueblood pedigree.
Bred along the successful cross of Distorted Humor over a Seattle Slew-line mare, Ironicus is out of Meghan’s Joy, a multiple stakes-placed daughter of Hall of Famer A.P. Indy. Meghan’s Joy has been a prolific producer responsible for seven stakes performers, five of them graded winners. Ironicus is her top earner with a bankroll of $1,148,790, but her daughter On Leave is herself a Grade 2-winning millionaire on turf. Two of Ironicus’ half-brothers, Norumbega and Hunting, scored their signature wins on dirt, while another half-sister, Quiet Harbor, preferred turf too.
Meghan’s Joy hails from a deep family. Her dam, Queens Wild, is a daughter of Hall of Famer Spectacular Bid
(bitterly unlucky not to sweep the 1979 Triple Crown
) and Grade 2 queen-turned-influential broodmare Wild Applause
, by Northern Dancer
Wild Applause produced such major winners as Roar, Eastern Echo, and Yell (ancestress of Elate), and she’s also the granddam of noted sires Congrats and Flatter. Herself out of Broodmare of the Year Glowing Tribute, Wild Applause is a full sister to multiple Grade 1 turf star Hero’s Honor and a half to 1993 Kentucky Derby and Travers (G1) victor Sea Hero.
Ironicus’ human connections are patrician as well. He was bred by Stuart Janney III, the Chairman of the Jockey Club, and co-owner/breeder of 2013 Derby star Orb. Janney’s parents are best known for their legendary homebred Ruffian.
Helium was bred by Teneri Farm and proprietor Bernardo Alvarez-Calderon, who cultivated the family for several generations. His dam, Thundering Emilia, was a Kentucky-bred exported as a youngster to Peru. She began her career at Monterrico in Lima, where she garnered a Group 3 victory on her original surface, dirt, and finished runner-up in the 2010 Clasico Pamplona (G1) on turf. Once repatriated to the United States, she spent most of her time on turf, notably capturing the 2012 John W. Rooney Memorial at Delaware Park.
Thundering Emilia’s name is derived from her parents, champion Thunder Gulch and Saint Emilia. Because Thunder Gulch is an exponent of the Mr. Prospector sire line like Distorted Humor, Helium sports a 4x4 duplication of “Mr. P.”
Thunder Gulch came close to a Triple Crown in 1995, taking the Derby and Belmont (G1) but beaten barely three-quarters of a length when third in the Preakness (G1). His Hall of Fame son, Point Given, likewise had to settle for the “Two-Thirds Club” in 2001. Fading to fifth in the Derby, Point Given rebounded in the Preakness that had eluded his sire and then conquered the Belmont.
As a broodmare sire, Thunder Gulch is responsible for 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) winner Bayern; 2015 Kentucky Oaks (G1) scorer Lovely Maria; Pleascach, victress of the classic Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) in 2015; and the versatile Mshawish, a Grade 1 hero on both dirt and turf.
Thundering Emilia is doing her part for Thunder Gulch as well. Aside from Helium, she has produced Mighty Scarlett, third in the 2018 Wonder Again (G3) on turf, and Emilia’s Moon, who landed Peru’s classic Polla de Potrancas (G1) in 2019 on the dirt. Helium has expressed a dual-surface knack himself as the winner of last fall’s Display on the Woodbine Tapeta before handling the dirt at Tampa.
Thundering Emilia’s dam, Saint Emilia, is a Group 3-winning sprinter on the Peruvian dirt. Saint Emilia also appears as the ancestress of Peruvian champion Valiant Emilia, who captured a Breeders’ Cup Challenge event in her homeland. Valiant Emilia used her free ticket to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), where she finished eighth to champion Untapable, but the Teneri Farm runner had the honor of representing her country.
Saint Emilia is herself a full sister to Peru’s champion miler Domingo, both by Saint Ballado. Starting out as the full brother to the great mare Glorious Song and champion Devil’s Bag, Saint Ballado stood on his own merits as the sire of Hall of Famer Ashado and 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam.
Further back, this is the family of a couple of exceptionally hardy campaigners from the mid-20th century – Triplicate (who was owned by the legendary Fred Astaire) and half-brother Inseparable. Triplicate’s marquee wins in a 90-race career came in the 1946 Hollywood Gold Cup and San Juan Capistrano. Inseparable won or placed in 25 stakes from 135 lifetime starts, including his richest coup in the 1950 Washington Park H.
Helium’s ninth dam in the maternal line, Ruthenia, was a Joseph Widener homebred who prevailed in the prestigious Test at Saratoga in 1926. Ruthenia’s half-brother, Marine, scored in such major races as the 1930 Saratoga H. and King Edward Gold Cup. Another near relation, Bolingbroke, won the Manhattan H. three times in the early 1940s, famously upending Whirlaway in the 1942 edition in an American record 2:27 3/5 for 1 1/2 miles at Belmont Park. Bolingbroke also took the Saratoga Cup twice, as well as the New York H., Whitney, and Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Ruthenia’s granddam (and Helium’s 11th dam), Lesbia, was a high-class filly in Great Britain with victories in the 1907 Middle Park and 1908 Coronation S. and July Cup. Lesbia’s full sister Flair, herself a Middle Park winner, scored in Newmarket’s 1000 Guineas in 1906. Also close up in their family is the outstanding stayer Prince Palatine, the winner of the 1911 St Leger who landed back-to-back runnings of the coveted Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in 1912-13. Lesbia is in turn a granddaughter of Footlight, the foundress of the family labeled 1-m.