Derby Top 10: Helium On Kentucky Derby High; Essential Quality, Life Is Good 1-2

By Richard Rosenblatt

Inhale. Exhale.


Either way, there’s no denying, at least for now, that Helium belongs in this week’s edition of the Kentucky Derby Top 10.

From nowhere to No. 7, who knows how high Helium might rise in the seven weeks before the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 1.

With one sweeping move around the final turn, Helium won the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) by three-quarters of a length on March 6 – a 15-1 longshot defeating 11 fellow 3-year-olds and earning 50 Derby qualifying points.

The victory lifted the son of Ironicus’ record to 3-0 – the same mark as Life Is Good, an eight-length winner of the San Felipe Stakes (G2) on March 6 that kept him at No. 2 in the latest Derby Top 10.

Essential Quality, unbeaten in four starts after his 3-year-old debut win in the Southwest Stakes (G3) on Feb. 27, remains No. 1.

Owned by Leonard Green’s D. J. Stable, Helium is not yet nominated for the Triple Crown races, but a $6,000 supplemental fee should be forthcoming soon.

Trainer Mark Casse says Helium may go straight to the Derby without any further preps – with 50 points he’s all but assured a spot in a maximum field of 20 for the 1 1/4 -mile Derby. The colt’s first two wins came at Woodbine on the synthetic Tapeta surface.

Casse said a decision on the colt’s next race is pending, but he’s grateful there’s a decision to be made in the first place.

Weather issues, COVID-19 woes, and a slight injury, delayed Helium’s 3-year-old debut. He was supposed race again in Canada, and the in the Lecomte (G3 on Jan. 16. He recovered, was worked back into shape in Ocala, Florida under the care of assistant trainer Nick Tomlinson, and showed up in Tampa with a winning effort.

And what’s even better is that 56-year-old jockey Jose Ferrer was aboard for the victory. He came into last weekend with more than 4,500 career wins, but this one ranks among the best.

“If you have faith and don’t give up, anything is possible, no matter how old you are,” said Ferrer. “Experience and fitness are what let me keep riding against these 25 and 30-year-old jockeys.”

And now he just may have his first chance to ride in the Kentucky Derby.

In another huge upset last weekend, 46-1 shot Weyburn nosed out Crowded Trade to win the Gotham Stakes (G3), but winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens remained uncertain about the road to the Derby. He mentioned that the Wood Memorial (G2) on April 3 would be a logical next stop before the Derby. We’ll wait and see what happens.

Life Is Good more than justified his status as one of the top Derby contenders with an easy stroll to victory in the San Felipe – with stablemate Medina Spirit second.

Both trained by six-time Derby winner Bob Baffert, Life Is Good is second, and Medina Spirit falls a few notches to No. 6.

Trainer Brad Cox now has three of the top 5 in this week’s Top 1- — Essential Quality, No. 4 Mandaloun, and No. 5 Caddo River.

Listed below, in addition to the Derby Future wager odds from Pool 4, are the odds from

US Racing Kentucky Derby Top 10

  1. Essential Quality (Brad Cox, Luis Saez)

No change here even after Life Is Good was so impressive in winning the San Felipe … Back at the Fair Grounds after winning the Southwest on Feb. 27 … 2-year-old male champ, winner of the BC Juvenile and 4-for-4 … Derby points and ranking: 40 (4th) … Next start: Blue Grass (G2), Keeneland, April 3, or Arkansas Derby (G1), Oaklawn, April 10 … Derby future wager odds: 5-1 … odds: 8-1.

  1. Life Is Good (Bob Baffert, Mike Smith)

Who Nellie! What a run to win the San Felipe by eight lengths despite veering out in the stretch … Baffert says the colt is still learning, like Authentic at this stage a year ago … Now 3-for-3 with one more Derby prep … Derby points and ranking: 60 (2nd) … Next start: Santa Anita Derby (G1), Santa Anita, April 3 … Derby future wager odds: 2-1 … odds: 4-1.

  1. Greatest Honour (Shug McGaughey, Jose Ortiz)

Fountain of Youth winner sticking with the Florida road to the Derby … 2-for-2 in 2021, with Holy Bull (G3) his other win … Career record: 6-3-1-2 … Derby points and ranking: 60 (1st) … Next start: Florida Derby (G1), Gulfstream, March 27 … Derby future wager odds (6-1) … odds: 10-1.

  1. Mandaloun (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux)

Risen Star winner put in a strong work on March 6 – 5 furlongs in 59.20 seconds at the Fair Grounds … Fastest work of 36 at the distance … A winner of three races in four career starts … Derby points and ranking 52 (3rd) … Next start: Louisiana Derby (G2), Fair Grounds, March 20 … Derby future wager odds: 17-1 … odds: 20-1.

  1. Caddo River (Brad Cox, Florent Geroux)

Smarty Jones winner is 2-2-0 in four starts … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.20 at the Fair Grounds on March 6 … Two more preps for him are likely … Derby points and ranking: 10 (22nd) … Next start: Rebel (G2), Oaklawn, Saturday (March 13) … Derby Future wager odds: 16-1 … odds: 12-1.

  1. Medina Spirit (Bob Baffert, John Velazquez)

OK, so he finished a distant second to stablemate Life Is Good in the San Felipe … Still a colt worth watching if he continues of the Derby trail for Baffert [he also has Spielberg and Concert Tour] … Won the Robert B. Lewis (G3) by a neck and now has two runner-up finishes behind Life Is Good … Derby points and ranking: 14 (10th) … Next start: Santa Anita Derby (possible), Santa Anita, April 3 … Derby future wager odds: 39-1 … odds: 18-1.

  1. Helium (Mark Casse, Jose Ferrer)

Good to see Casse, and journeyman Ferrer, on the Derby trail … if the owner [Len Green] forks over $6,000 soon to supplement the colt to the Triple Crown races … Bay colt had some woes – weather, COVID-19, an injury — before surprise win in Tampa … Taking a shot with this guy after such an impressive move on the final turn to surge into the lead … Two Tampa Bay Derby winners went on to win Run for the Roses: Street Sense in 2007; Super Saver 2010 … Derby points and ranking: 50 (Officially ranked after supplemental fee is paid; would be 4th) … Next start: TBD … Derby future wager odds: 7-1 (mutuel field) … odds: 16-1.

  1. Midnight Bourbon (Steve Asmussen, Joe Talamo)

Are we sticking with this colt too long? … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00,60 at the Fair Grounds on March 8 … Won Lecomte (G3), third in Risen Star (G2), colt has never missed the board in six starts – 6-2-1-3. … Derby points and ranking: 26 (6th) … Next start: Louisiana Derby (G2), Fair Grounds, March 20 … Derby future wager odds: 52-1 … odds: 33-1.

  1. Risk Taking (Chad Brown, Eric Cancel)

Withers (G3) winner has trainer thinking Derby … Worked 4 furlongs in 49.00 at Belmont Park on March 6 … Derby points and ranking: 10 (19th) … Next start: Wood Memorial (G2), Aqueduct, April 3 … Derby future wager odds: 42-1 … odds: 16-1.

  1. Keepmeinmind (Robertino Diodoro, David Cohen)

Finally set for 3-year-old debut … Won Kentucky Jockey Club back in November and is 1-2-1 in four career starts … Worked 5 furlongs in 1:02.20 at Oaklawn on March 5, 23rd of 32 at the distance … Derby points and ranking: 18 (10th) … Next start: Rebel (G2), Oaklawn, March 13 … Derby future wager odds: 30-1 … odds: 16-1.