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Contender Analysis for the 2021 Kentucky Derby – Helium, Midnight Bourbon, and Mandaloun

| April 26, 2021 7:41 am PDT

The 2021 Kentucky Derby is Saturday, May 1. There will be several contenders vying for the prize, but which will be the winning thoroughbred team?

In this four-part series, I analyze each of the horses. Examining their history, form, and chances of crossing the finish line first.

If you are new to horse racing, you might want to check out our guide to betting on the Kentucky Derby.


One of the younger Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Helium, was born on April 1, 2018.

He has demonstrated an ability to claim the lead at about the midpoint of a race and hold it all the way to the wire.

His record may be short, but it is nevertheless telling. Three career starts including his single Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifier, and all of them wins.

Several Derby winners had similar brief pre-KD records. 2018 KD winner Justify is one example and Big Brown in 2008 is another. It’s not common, certainly but it’s not rare, either.

Helium’s Trainer

Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Famer Mark E. Casse has seen plenty of success in his long and distinguished thoroughbred training career.

He trained 2019 Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, and that same year’s Belmont Stakes winner, Sir Winston.

This won’t be his first trip to the Kentucky Derby. In 2005, he was there with Seaside Retreat, and again in 2015, with Danzig Moon.

Of Helium’s victory after fighting off challenger Hidden Stash in the Tampa Bay Derby, Casse told reporters this.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, 40 years and that was one of the more amazing feats I’ve ever had a horse pull off.”

Helium’s Jockey

Emma-Jayne Wilson was in the irons for Helium’s first two wins, the second of which was a four-length shutout in the Display Stakes (Listed).

For the KD prep race in March, however, Jose C. Ferrer was aboard. Helium confirmed his ability to claim the lead in the stretch to finish first.

Both jockeys appear to know what Helium is fully capable of, but it will most likely be Ferrer in the irons when Helium shows up for the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Helium’s Owner

Bred in Kentucky by Teneri Farm, Inc. and Bernardo Alvarez Calderon, Helium is owned by D. J. Stable LLC.

The operation is run by New Jersey entrepreneur/equine consultant Len Green, founder of The Green Group.

Helium’s Recent Form

Helium has a brief, albeit strong record. His three career starts all resulted in wins. Beginning with his maiden at Woodbine last September, then another win at Woodbine in the Display Stakes (Listed).

His third win is the one that counts, as far as the Road to the Kentucky Derby is concerned.

In the Tampa Bay Derby in March 2021, he battled for the lead and then earned it in the upper stretch, maintaining it all the way to the finish line.

Midnight Bourbon

This three-year-old Kentucky bay colt has plenty of success stories to tell. He’s finished in the money for every one of his seven career starts. And his trainer is someone not unfamiliar with thoroughbred racing.

His owner, Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC, has fielded plenty of Preakness and Breeders’ Cup contenders. Even his breeder, Stonestreet Stables, has a solid history of producing winners.

Midnight Bourbon’s Trainer

Steve Asmussen is one of the current titans of thoroughbred training.

He recently told the Daily Racing Form what he thought of Midnight Bourbon.

“He’s a beautiful horse who’s doing well, and we’re excited about him. He’s always trained very professionally.”

Midnight Bourbon’s Jockey

While Joseph Talamo has had the most success aboard Midnight Bourbon, a variety of veteran jockeys have shared the racing experience with him as well, including Joel Rosario, Jose Ortiz, and Gerardo Corrales.

I’d like to see Talamo in the irons for Midnight Bourbon’s KD run, but then, I’d also like Katy Perry to return my calls.

Midnight Bourbon’s Owner

Since 2003, Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC has seen more than 30 of its thoroughbreds win graded stakes races.

Midnight Bourbon’s Lecomte win at Fair Grounds Race Course was the most recent.

Midnight Bourbon’s Recent Form

This colt moneyed in all seven of his career runs. He placed third in his first start and broke his maiden in his second. After that, he was entered in five graded stakes races (that all just happened to be Road to the Kentucky Derby qualification runs).

He was among the first KD hopefuls to get on the leaderboard with four points for his second-place finish in the Iroquois Stakes (Grade III) at Churchill Downs last September.

He then picked up another two Road points with a third-place finish in the Champagne Stakes (Grade I) at Belmont Park in October.

His next challenge ended with a winning finish in the Lecomte Stakes (Grade III) at Fair Grounds this past January. Then he stayed at Fair Grounds for his next two runs.

He placed third (picking up two more Road points) in the Risen Star Stakes (Grade II) in February and claimed another 40 Road points with a second-place finish in the Louisiana Derby in late March.


The bay colt Mandaloun was checking all the right boxes even before he began his race down the Road to the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

  • Born in Kentucky? Check.
  • World class trainer? Check.
  • Win very first maiden race? Check.

Mandaloun’s Trainer

Younger than some of his colleagues and competitors in the thoroughbred racing business, trainer Brad H. Cox has already earned his place among the living legends of the craft.

He was ranked second in earnings for 2020, ahead of Bob Baffert but behind Steve Asmussen.

Mandaloun’s Jockey

Top jockey Florent Geroux has been aboard Mandaloun for every one of his five starts, from maiden to the latest Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying race.

He will certainly be at the top of the short list to ride Mandaloun at Churchill Downs on May 1st.

Mandaloun’s Owner

Mandaloun is one of the many top thoroughbreds born and bred at Khalid bin Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms. Founded in 1980, Juddmonte Farms has bred, raised, trained, and fielded many of racing’s best horses.

Of Mandaloun, Juddmont general manager Garrett O’Rourke said this recently.

“Everyone gets excited when they have a good three-year-old at this time of year. He can get out there and just keep it going.”

Mandaloun’s Recent Form

Mandaloun broke his maiden in October with his first career start at Keeneland. He then went on to win an allowance-optional claiming race at Churchill Downs in November.

Since then, he’s been all about the Road to the Kentucky Derby. He picked up his first two Road leaderboard points in with a third-place finish in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course in January.

He returned to Fair Grounds in February and boosted his leaderboard score by 50 points with his win in the Risen Star Stakes (Grade II).

Unfortunately, whatever synergism, good fortune, or joss, Fair Grounds was offering dried up for Mandaloun in March when he failed to rally in the home stretch and finished a disappointing sixth in the Louisiana Derby (Grade II).

In Conclusion

Who will win the $2 million purse on May Day? Hard to say for sure, but definitely fun to speculate!

And if you’d like to put some money on who you think will gallop across the finish line first, be sure to check out our recommendations for horse racing betting sites.

J.W. Paine

J.W. Paine is one of the most experienced writers at GamblingSites.com. He's written for television and the printed media, and is a published novelist (as Tom Elliott).

Paine loves writing about Las Vegas nearly as much he loves living here. An experienced gambler, he's especially familiar with thoroughbred horseracing, poker, blackjack, and slots.

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