Helium gets lift on Road to the Kentucky Derby

Helium, a 15/1 outsider, claimed his place in the Kentucky Derby with a shock win over Candy Man Rocket in the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday.

A Kentucky Derby prep race day that began with a huge upset in the Gotham Stakes continued in the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday.

Not long after 46/1 longshot Weyburn won at Aqueduct, 15/1 shot Helium, making his first start on dirt, stunned the 12-horse field, including 4/5 favorite Candy Man Rocket.

Helium had only two career races under his belt, both wins on synthetic turf at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. His last race was the Display Stakes on October 18, after which there was a layoff that lasted over four months.

Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse had been working Helium on dirt in preparation for his Derby prep debut and all indications are that it was with great success.

The winner of the Tampa Bay Derby was awarded 50 points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying, all but assuring Helium entry into the first jewel of the Triple Crown. Candy Man Rocket, the winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 6, will have to find somewhere else to pick up enough points to earn an invitation to the Kentucky Derby.

The Tampa Bay Derby was the second of two qualifying races at the track and it awarded points on a 50-20-10-5 scale. It was the next-to-last weekend of races at that point level before the Louisiana Derby at The Fair Grounds in New Orleans kicks off the 100-40-20-10 contests on March 20. Saturday's Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park will close out the 50-point races.

Two-horse battle down the stretch

Boca Boy at 30/1 broke on top from his fifth post position and held the lead by a length over Helium for the first 3/4 of a mile of the 1 1/16 mile race. When he faded at the beginning of the stretch, Helium took the lead and Hidden Stash moved up into second place as the pair began to distance themselves from the pack.

Hidden Stash made a valiant effort under Rafael Bejarano, but jockey Jose Ferrer was able to keep Helium in front by half a length. He pulled away a bit near the finish line, winning by 3/4 of a length over Hidden Stash, with 35/1 Moonlite Strike another three lengths behind and 2 1/2 lengths in front of fourth-placed Unbridled Honor, who went off at 22/1.

Boca Boy faded to finish in eighth place, while Candy Man Rocket challenged briefly but never got closer than third before finally limping home in 11th spot. Promise Keeper, who failed to live up to its name, was among the favorites at 4/1 but ended up as the last horse to cross the finish line.

In addition to the 50 qualifying points, Helium earned $210,000 for the victory and paid $32.80, $12.80 and $9.00. Hidden Stash picked up 20 points and $70,000 in prize money, paying $4.20 and $3.40.

Moonlite Strike was awarded 10 points, $35,000, and paid an impressive $14.80 for the show bet. Fourth-placed Unbridled Honor got five points and $17,500.