In 1994, the 8-year-old mare Proud Emilia was shipped from the U.S., along with her colt foal from the first crop of Saint Ballado, then an inexpensive young sire standing at Ocala Stud in Florida. Proud Emilia proved to be an exceptional producer and foundation mare in her new home. Now she's also assumed new significance in the land of her birth as third dam of Helium, who earned his place in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) line-up with a victory in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2).
Helium, who was making his dirt debut at the weekend, will head into the Run for the Roses sporting an undefeated record. The Tampa Bay Derby was his seasonal debut, and he made just two starts at 2 last year, both on the all weather at Woodbine, taking a seven furlong maiden and the Display Stakes at the same distance.
Helium who was purchased privately by his current owners as a 2-year-old, was bred in the name Teneri Farm and the late Bernardo Alvarez-Calderon. A native of Peru who once represented his country at international level as a show jumper, Calderon had been involved in breeding Thoroughbreds for around 50 years, and purchased Proud Emilia's dam, Redwing Blackbird, carrying Proud Emilia in 1986 at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Winter Mixed Sale for $9,600.
A daughter of Proud Appeal (by Valid Appeal), Proud Emilia won five races at Suffolk Downs and Garden State. Late in her career, she dropped into claiming company to score at the New Jersey oval, but then rebounded on her penultimate start to take third behind champion sprinter Safely Kept in the Garden State Park Budweiser Breeders' Cup Handicap (G3).
The Saint Ballado colt that accompanied Proud Emilia to Peru, Domingo, won 15 of 21 starts in Peru, including the Premio OSAF (G1) and was named champion miler in that country. Proud Emilia was also carrying a filly foal by Saint Ballado when exported, and as Saint Emilia, that foal won three black-type races, including the Premio Gustavo Luna Vertiz (G3). Proud Emilia subsequently came up with a third graded winner in Lucky Emilia, a daughter of the local stallion Vaduz who took the Clasico Gustavo Luna Vertiz (G3).
In addition to her achievements on the track, Proud Emilia's daughter, Saint Emilia, continued the good work in the breeding shed. Her unplaced daughter, Valiant Saint, produced Valiant Emilia (by Fusaichi Pegasus son Pegasus Wind), champion older mare in Peru, and her minor winner, San Emilia, features as dam of Peruvian stakes winner and graded placed performer, Warrior Heart (by A.P. Indy son, Lord Justice, and having the brothers Devil's Bag/Saint Ballado 3x3).
More significant, however, is Saint Emilia's Thunder Gulch daughter Thundering Emilia. She took the Clasico Jose Rodriguez Razzeto (G3) and ran second in the Clasico Pamplona (G1) while racing in Peru, but also proved her worth in the U.S. where her performances included a win in the listed John W. Rooney Memorial Stakes at Delaware Park and a third in the Paris Opera Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
At stud, Thundering Emilia began with a minor winning colt by Scat Daddy, but her second foal, the filly Mighty Scarlett—another Scat Daddy product—gained black-type with a third in the Wonder Again Stakes (G3T). Thundering Emilia's third foal, Emilia's Moon, won the Clasico Polla de Potrancas (G1)—a One Thousand Guineas equivalent—in Peru, and Helium is the fourth.
Helium is one of four winners from 18 starters, and 34 foals from the first crop of his sire, Ironicus. A son of Distorted Humor out of the exceptional successful A.P. Indy producer, Meghan's Joy, Ironicus was a late-maturing turf horse with most of his form at around a mile. Unplaced in his only start at 2, he earned a maiden win from four outings at 3. The following year he captured the Longines Dixie Stakes (G2T) and Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2T), which he took in a new course record for the 8 1/2 furlongs. Improving again at 5, in four starts he took the Fort Marcy Stakes (G3T); ran second, beaten just a head by Miss Temple City, in the Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes (G1T); second to champion turf horse Flintshire in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (G1T) at 10 furlongs; and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Mile (G1T).
Peruvian runners apart, Helium is probably the most significant performer under his first six dams. One generation further back, we come to the Sickle mare, Fair Weather, who is ancestress of notable runners a wide-range of countries including grade 1 winners in the U.S. (the Test Stakes, G1, victress Sweet Lulu), South Africa (the outstanding performer Archangel), and Brazil; of group and graded winners in Germany, Chile, and Canada; and of additional black-type scorers in Australia, India, and Turkey (champion 2- and 3-year-old colt Long Runner). The family has been in the U.S. since the importation in 1922 of the mare Damaris II, a daughter of Epsom Derby victor Sunstar, and Lesbia, the top 2-year-old filly of her crop. There is also a Triple Crown connection here as Damaris II's granddaughter, Fairday, is dam not only of Fair Weather but also of the Hollywood Gold Cup captor Triplicate. His son, Better Bee, sired Bee Bee Bee, who upset Riva Ridge on a muddy track in the 1972 Preakness Stakes.
Helium is one of six stakes winners (16%), four graded, from 38 starters by Distorted Humor and sons out of Thunder Gulch mares—far better than the strike-rate for the sires with all other broodmare sires and sire lines. We can also note that the cross of Distorted Humor and a mare by a son of Thunder Gulch resulted in Hillaby, champion female sprinter in Canada. Both Distorted Humor and Thunder Gulch are Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer cross, and Distorted Humor's second dam is by a son of Hail to Reason. This same Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer over a son of Hail to Reason also produced Thundering Emilia, so perhaps the duplication of the pattern is the key to Helium's ability.