Alberta's Top Sophomores Prepare For Showdown

G Ts Skyla
Published: October 4, 2023 12:03 pm EDT

It’s interesting. Very interesting.

As expected, G Ts Skyla (pictured above) and Virtual Horizon -- the early favourites for Alberta’s most prestigious races -- the October 21 $110,000 Western Canada Pacing Derby and the $110,000 Century Casino Filly Pace -- both won this past Saturday’s final prep races at Century Mile.

G Ts Skyla won the $55,100 Alberta Sires Stakes Princess final by 7-1/2 lengths; Virtual Horizon won his 13th race in a row taking the $56,300 Alberta Plainsman.

G Ts Skyla paid just $2.30 to win. Virtual Horizon paid $3.10 to win.

But reinforcements are on the way.

B.C. trainer Jim Marino is sending out Side Piece from British Columbia’s Fraser Downs for the Century Casino; Kelly Hoerdt has already shipped in Mickie Mantle from B.C. to see if he can end Virtual Horizon’s long winning streak in the Derby.

“I can’t wait for another try at G Ts Skyla,” said Marino, who finished second to the McGinn family’s big filly in the Gord and Illa Rumpel Memorial Stakes in August.

“We tried a first-over trip in the Rumpel but we couldn’t get by her on the outside. G Ts Skyla had the inside post and got the jump on us and beat us,” Marino said of the race where Side Piece finished second but more than four lengths behind.

Since the Rumpel, Side Piece has been very good at Fraser Downs, winning both elimination legs of the Mary Murphy stakes series. The last win came in a lifetime mark of 1:52.4 while winning by 7-1/2 lengths.

The fastest G Ts Skyla, who has won 10 of her 14 career appearances, has gone is 1:53.2.

But Marino noted that the track at Fraser Downs in Side Piece’s latest appearance was “lightning fast.”

Side Piece has won nine of her 12 lifetime starts.

“Maybe the mile track will help her; I think it will,” said trainer Marino, who also owns Side Piece with breeder J J J Stable. “More straightaways; less turns. And they’re both big, strong fillies.

“I know G Ts Skyla is a great filly; but I think ours is too. I hope they both meet in the final. It would be a great race.”

The eliminations for the Century Casino Pace are Oct. 14.

As for Mickie Mantle, Hoerdt said he’s not coming to Edmonton to finish second even if his three-year-old has lost to Virtual Horizon three consecutive times.

“I never enter a race thinking I’m not going to win,” said Hoerdt, who couldn’t get past Virtual Horizon in the $59,000 Maverick on July 22, an elimination leg of the Ralph Klein on Aug. 5 or the $114,250 Klein final on Aug. 12.

“We had outside posts in the Maverick and the Ralph Klein final and it was too much to overcome.”

Mickie Mantle came back from the Klein to win his last start -- a leg of the Robert Murphy Memorial -- at Fraser Downs in a new mark of 1:52.1.

“I don’t like going back and forth over the mountains but his last race made my decision to bring him to Alberta for the Derby,” said trainer/driver Hoerdt, who also owns Mickie Mantle, a winner of eight of his 18 starts, with Fred Gilbert. “Mickie Mantle won that leg of the Robert Murphy comfortably. We battled with the co-favourite and pacesetter, Rum N Raisins, down the lane and 'Mickie' drew clear.

“He has some talent for sure. He’s a full brother to Joe Dimagio,” he said of a four-year-old, who is still racing in Ontario and who has won $176,743. A $52,000 B.C. Yearling Sale purchase, Joe Dimagio won the $61,875 Keith Linton Memorial Sakes last year at Fraser Downs.

Hoerdt bought Mickie Mantle for $27,000 at the Alberta Yearling Sale.

“Mickie Mantle had some issues getting around Century Downs. The track was loose and deep,” said Hoerdt, who has 15 horses in B.C. and 15 horses in Alberta. “I think a mile track will be more to his liking. He’s not a big and rugged individual but he has lots of speed and he’s versatile. The big, wide turns on a mile track help a horse that maybe doesn’t get around tighter tracks as well.

"I’m looking forward to starting him at Century Mile. He’s in great shape.

“Virtual Horizon is a nice horse but they’re all beatable. That’s why I’m entering. I’m expecting good things,” said Hoerdt, who is also considering supplementing Matts Gem, who has been racing in Ontario, to the Derby.

Like the Century Casino Pace, the Derby eliminations will also be on Oct. 14.

As for G Ts Skyla and Virtual Horizon, they remain the horses to beat.

Virtual Horizon, who hasn’t lost since last October, tried to get beat again in the final of the Plainsman but trainer/driver Brandon Campbell refused to let that happen.

“Once again, he waited for another horse to come at him,” said Campbell, who had to stay busy all the way down the stretch as longshot Blue Star Mercury came at him from the inside. “That’s just [Virtual Horizon]. I thought he was beat. But that’s just him playing games. He gives me a heart attack and then he just digs in and trucks on again. He just doesn’t do any more than he has to do.”

Campbell, who was able to give Virtual Horizon a breather down the backstretch, said he would like to see Vertical Horizon race on a fast track.

“The rail was deep and slow. It was like quicksand. We all had to race two to two and a half lengths off the rail.

“It was a good thing for me that Blue Star Mercury had to race through the deep stuff,” he said of the runner-up, who came up a length short.

“Virtual Horizon is going to get this week off -- just some light jogging. He holds his shape well.”

As for G Ts Skyla, trainer Scott McGinn, who owns G Ts Skyla with his father, Terry, and grandfather and grandmother, Gerald and Marjorie McGinn, said he was “definitely very happy” with the filly’s victory in the Princess final, which she won easily.

“She raced great. The five horse [Outlawabovenbeyond] went quick and we were able to stay close on a tiring racetrack,” McGinn said of the fractions of :27.3; :54.4 and 1:23.2, which culminated in a winning time of 1:54.2.

The victory came after G Ts Skyla finished second in the elimination, losing by a head to You Promyst, who, in turn, came from well back to finish second in the Princess final.

“[G Ts Skyla] definitely needed that race. She hadn’t raced since the August 12 Rumpel. Because of a mixture of rain and smoke, she didn’t get the training I wanted and she ended up being a head short. In the elimination, she had to go three-wide down the backstretch and then finish against a strong head wind. A lot of factors led to her just getting nipped at the wire.

“But she was real good on Saturday and she came out of that race really good too.”

(Curtis Stock/

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