Helium Soars in Tampa Bay Derby; Handle Shatters Record
Sunday, March 7, 2021

    OLDSMAR - Jose Ferrer’s enthusiasm for horse racing has never wavered during a 39-year career. His love of the sport has enabled him to win more than 4,500 races, including 27 graded stakes, and be recognized as the 2018 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award winner, an honor given to a jockey whose career and personal character reflect positively on racing.

    But it’s unlikely few moments can match his victory aboard Helium yesterday in the Gr. II, $400,000 Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs.

    “I’m 56, and I feel like I’m 20,” Ferrer said after the 3-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Ironicus, out of Thundering Emilia, by Thunder Gulch, held off Hidden Stash by ¾-length in a time of 1:43.55 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth. Moonlite Strike finished third. The 8-5 favorite, Gr. III Sam F. Davis winner Candy Man Rocket, dropped back approaching the stretch, fading to 11th of 12. Helium paid $32.80.

    The 41st edition of the Tampa Bay Derby capped a record-shattering Festival Day 41 Presented by Lambholm South program. All-sources handle of $15,229,366 set an all-time record, roughly 2.5-percent above the previous mark set on Tampa Bay Derby Day in 2018.

    Other stakes winners included 4-year-old filly Micheline in the Gr. II, $225,000 Hillsborough Stakes; 3-year-old filly Domain Expertise, who set a stakes record in the Gr. III, $200,000 Florida Oaks; 5-year-old Florida-bred gelding Last Judgment in the Gr. III, $100,000 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes; and 3-year-old colt Winfromwithin, who set a turf course record of 1:33.72 in the 1-mile Columbia Stakes.

    The crowd let out a collective gasp when Helium, trained by Mark Casse and owned by the D. J. Stable of Leonard Green and family, moved to the lead rounding the far turn. He drew clear, but Hidden Stash and Rafael Bejarano came charging and might have grabbed a brief lead. But it didn't last.

    Helium improved to 3-for-3, his first two victories coming as a 2-year-old at Woodbine, including an Oct.  18 score in the Display Stakes in his previous start. Still, Casse knew he had many questions to answer.

    “He trained well enough that we thought he deserved a chance,” said Casse, who won the 2012 Tampa Bay Derby with Prospective. “We had thought about running in the Gotham and thought, if we’re going to try the dirt, let’s run him close to home, and it worked well for us.

    “This horse is something because he got away a little slow today and we had planned on him being closer. He made that big wide run on the turn, but when (Hidden Stash rallied) I was going to be happy with second. I thought, we can build on this, because this is only his third start and there is a lot of room for improvement.

    “What was amazing is that he wasn’t overly exhausted after the race. He’s a beautiful horse, he’s bred to run all day long and he looks like a Derby horse, so it’s exciting,” Casse said.

    In the Hillsborough Stakes, the classy Micheline, a Godolphin-owned home-bred daughter of Bernardini, out of Panty Raid, by Include, took the lead in the stretch and held on under jockey Luis Saez for a ¾-length victory from Morning Molly. New York Girl was a head back in third, followed by La Signare and Miss Teheran, who dead-heated for fourth.

    The victory was the first graded-stakes triumph for Micheline, who according to Ben Trask – the  Tampa Bay Downs assistant for trainer Michael Stidham – has a personality all her own.

    “She is kind of a silly filly – she’s a bad stall walker, so she lives in a little tent behind the barn,” Trask said. “She is definitely a unique filly with a lot of talent. I was a little concerned with the outside post today and whether she would overcome it, but Luis put her in a great spot the whole time and when he called on her, she was there.”

    Micheline, now 5-for-13, completed the mile-and-an-eighth on the turf in 1:47.19. 

    For sheer drama, it was hard to top the finish of the Gr. III, $200,000 Florida Oaks for sophomore fillies on the turf. Jouster and Saez made an easy lead most of the way and appeared to be home-free until she turned her head in the stretch, perhaps seeking company.

    Whatever the circumstances, that was the opening Antonio Gallardo needed on Domain Expertise, the daughter of Kitten’s Joy out of the Limehouse mare Teroda. Domain Expertise gobbled up the ground in lightning-quick fashion and stuck her nose in front at the wire, winning in 1:41.12 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth. Her time is a stakes record, bettering Fifty Five’s 1:41.60 in 2017.


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