Three Takeaways from the 2021 Tampa Bay Derby

Mar 09, 2021 by James Scully/

Tampa Bay Downs hosted its centerpiece event on Saturday, the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (G2), and a new Kentucky Derby contender emerged in the 1 1/16-mile qualifier, which awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale.

Here are three Tampa Bay Derby takeaways.

Helium overcomes wide trip, gamely stays unbeaten

Forced extremely wide on both turns, Helium advanced to the lead entering the stretch and turned back a serious challenge from runner-up Hidden Stash to score by three-quarters of a length.

The Mark Casse runner was overlooked at 15-1 odds in his first start since mid-October, returning from a 139-day layoff, and Helium remained unbeaten in his first dirt and two-turn start.

After breaking his maiden at Woodbine in late September, Helium posted a 4 1/4-length victory in the Display S. over the Tapeta track three weeks later. The Kentucky-bred Ironicus colt was not nominated to the Triple Crown by the Jan. 23 deadline, but DJ Stable (Leonard Green) plans to make him a late nominee by March 29.

Helium had been training forwardly in preparation, recording a couple of bullet works at Palm Meadows in February, and he stepped up with a big performance off the bench in the Tampa Bay Downs.

I liked his resolve – Hidden Stash appeared ready to run past when drawing alongside with a sixteenth of a mile remaining – and Helium has shown the versatility to handle any surface.

Training up to the Kentucky Derby

The 50-point winner’s share prize should ensure a Kentucky Derby berth. And following a massive effort off the layoff, Casse is considering training Helium straight up to the Run for the Roses on May 1.

His pedigree is slanted toward longer distances. Connections aren’t ruling out another prep race, but Helium appears likely to wait eight weeks for the main event.

It’s an unorthodox strategy. Every Kentucky Derby winner this century has made at least one previous start at nine furlongs (1 1/8 miles). None were freshened eight weeks or more in advance of their first attempt at 1 1/4 miles on Derby Day.

Hidden Stash, who has opened the year with runner-up finishes in the Tampa Bay Derby and Sam F. Davis S. (G3) at Tampa Bay Downs, will head to the Blue Grass S. (G2) at Keeneland on April 3

Tampa Bay Derby depth?

Pool 4 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager (KDFW) was held last weekend, and the only Tampa Bay Derby runner listed among the 23 individual entrants, Candy Man Rocket, finished 11th as the 8-5 favorite.

Helium registered only a 93 Brisnet Speed rating for his victory, which may be one of the lowest last-out figures if he trains straight up to the Kentucky Derby.

The quality of the three-year-old division in South Florida this season has been suspect.

Greatest Honour, who has swept both qualifiers at Gulfstream Park in 2021, was the only runner from the recent Fountain of Youth S. (G2) to be included in Pool 4 of the KDFW.

Helium was visually-impressive overcoming a wide trip in the Tampa Bay Derby, but the depth of competition remains questionable.

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