Tuesday, 12 September 2023 20:59

Unique Training Regimen Puts One-Horse Wonder G TS Skyla on the Fast Track to Success

It’s quite the scene.

Every day after harness trainer Scott McGinn finishes work he goes home to Stony Plain and jogs his one-horse stable star, G TS Skyla, around a six-foot wide path that surrounds a neighbour’s barley field. About a third of a mile in circumference, the makeshift track is harrowed to keep it soft and fluffy.

“Our farm used to be outside of Stony Plain all by itself. But houses have grown up around it and people always smile and wave to me as I’m jogging Skyla and going past them,” said McGinn.

“It’s pretty cool. Different but pretty cool. The track is just black dirt but it does the job.”

A winner of nine of her 12 starts and six in a row, and looking more impressive every time G TS Skyla races the unique training regimen is obviously working.

“It’s pretty amazing,” said G TS Skyla’s driver Logan Gillis.”

“I always wonder how they keep her in such good shape. I guess that’s how.”

When McGinn wants a fast mile out of G TS Skyla, he send her to Jean Francois Gagne’s farm just outside of Wetaskiwin where Gagne has a half-mile track.

A three-year-old filly, G TS Skyla’s last race was the August 12 $101,770 Gord and Illa Rumpel which she won by four and a quarter lengths in a lifetime mark of 1:53 2/5 despite being headed at the three-quarter pole by Side Piece.

Gillis, however, wasn’t worried.

“I didn’t ask her for any speed at that point. I knew I had lots left. She’s got another gear when you ask her to go.”

“She’s something special. Definitely something very special,” said Gillis.

McGinn thinks so too.

“She’s phenomenal. She gets better every time she comes to the track.”

With no classes to race in except the Open Mares division, GT S Skyla sat idle after the Rumpel victory to this past Sunday when Scott qualified GTS Skyla at Lacombe’s Track On 2.

It was her first appearance in a month on a track other than her romps around the barley field and his trips to Gagne’s farm. But you’d never know it. She won the qualifier in 1:55 4/5 with a scintillating last quarter in :27 1/5.

“And I never even asked her,” said Gillis. “Plus there was a strong head wind. Off a month and she was as good as the day she raced in the Rumpel. Absolutely just as good. It was pretty impressive.

“They’ve done a great job of keeping her happy.”

“And she looks great too. She looks like a really good horse is supposed to look.”

“She’s very big and very strong,” added Scott. “And she can carry her speed a long way. She doesn’t tire out. She’s determined to win. Just like she showed in the Rumpel.”

“A horse gets beside her and she digs in.”

“She even does that on the farm. She loves to chase the other horses around. It’s fun to watch.”

The Rumpel certainly wasn’t the only stake GT S Skyla has won.

She also took the $56,000 July 22 Marquis at Balzac’s Century Downs.

“Logan sat fifth that day,” said Scott. “He pulled going into the second turn and had to go three wide when the horse in front of him stalled out.”

“But she won that one too.”

GT S Skyla also took the stake previous to the Marquis, the $90,000 final of the Shirley McClellan Pace despite finishing with broken equipment.

“She dropped a knee boot coming around the far turn,” said Scott. “But it didn’t slow her down. Logan kept her steady and she wore down the pace setter Caviar N Crackers to win by a length.”

As a two-year-old GT S Skyla won two stakes. The first, the Starlet last September, was her career debut. Sent away as the heavy 3-5 favourite, she won that by more than 10 lengths and then took the Brad Gunn the following week.

The only time G TS Skyla hasn’t finished first or second was in last year’s Super Finals when she was parked outside the entire mile.

“She pretty well drives herself,” said Gillis, who took over the driving this spring from Brandon Campbell, who had a top three-year-old filly himself. “She does it on her own.”

GT S Skyla’s only loss this year came on June 9 at Century Downs.

“She was sick for a month,” said Scott. “That was when heavy smoke rolled in and it seemed like half the backstretch got a virus.

“I had to get a start into her before the McClellan stake so I raced her in a condition pace. She hadn’t raced in over a month but she still only got beat by six inches. She had to go first up on a horse that got away with a slow half.”

“I didn’t know what to expect because she had been off for so long. I thought she raced great considering the circumstances.”

GT S Skyla isn’t racing this weekend at Edmonton’s Century Mile. Instead she’s being pointed to the Alberta Princess elimination legs on September 23 and then the $50,000 Final n September 30.

After that GT S Skyla will get ready to contest the $75,000 Filly Pace on October 21 which is the same day as the Western Canada Pacing Derby. Then it will be the November 4 Super Finals.

“She’s got quite the personality,” said Scott. “She’s very curious. She’s always sticking her head into places she doesn’t belong.”

“She’s also very well mannered. She’s a pleasure to be around.”

The McGinns knew they had something special almost from day one.

GT S Skyla qualified last year on August 27. She finished first by more than eight lengths and then, as mentioned, easily won her career debut two weeks later.

“She showed a lot of potential as a two-year-old,” said Scott. “Ever since then she’s been a rock star.”

It’s been a true family story.

Scott owns GT S Skyla with his father, Terry, and grandfather and grandmother Gerald and Marjorie McGinn, who are also the horse’s breeder - a daughter of Mystician, who took a mark of 1:49 2/5 and won just under $2 million and out of a mare, GT S Selene that the family also owned and bred.

The McGinns also owned GT S Selene’s dam Enola Gay Mindale - a mare Gerald bought at a mixed sale.

“GT S Skyla is a third generation horse for us. So that’s pretty cool too,” said Scott.

Now 87, Gerald was the one who got the McGinns into harness racing.

“Gerald started it,” said Scott, 28.

“He started up the family business, a water well business - Gerald McGinn Drilling - just outside of Stony Plain that drills wells and then services them for acreages and farms in 1967.”

“He grew up on a farm and has been around horses all of his life.”

Gerald owned standardbreds in the mid 1980s and one day in 1998 he just decided to try training them himself. He just took a chance and it worked out well.

“He was very successful and had quite a few stakes horses,” Scott said of his grandfather who won 165 races as a trainer and whose horses won $1.5 million including GT S JJ, who won 20 races and $308,000, and GT S Jet, who won 19 races and $298,722.”

“He would take me to the races when I was just a kid after school, on weekends and then we would spend summer vacations in Calgary and Grande Prairie where he raced,” said Scott, who also still works for McGinn Drilling alongside being a trainer.”

“I’m going to step away from the drilling company and transition into full-time training full time in a little while. We’ll see how that goes.”

“I’ve been around the track as long as I can remember,” said Scott, 28, who took out his trainers license just a few years ago.”

“I’ve been in love with horses since I started coming to the track when I was very young.”

“Horses have always been in the plan for me I think.”

“It’s a family operation.”

“Dad grew up around horses too. He’s been an owner with my grandfather. He never trained horses but he would occasionally get in a jog cart,” said Scott, whose only other horses are a two-year-old “that is a little behind in training” and a couple of homebred yearlings.

“GT S Skyla is the only horse I’ve got racing. She’s a one-woman show.”

Scott thinks GT S Skyla is only going to get better.

“She’ll like the bigger track at Century Mile. She’s a big horse and has good straight line speed. So a mile track is only going to help her. She’ll be able to pick up a lot of speed.”

STOCK REPORT - One of the major days of the thoroughbred racing takes place this Saturday at Century Downs just outside of Calgary with the Alberta Fall Classic. Showcasing the Alberta breeding industry there are seven $50,000 stakes races for Alberta-breds.

There is the Alberta Premiers for two-year-old colts and geldings; the Sturgeon River for two-year-old fillies - a field headed by undefeated Miss Miezie - the Beaufort for three-year-old colts; the Alberta Oaks for three-year-old fillies; the Alberta Breeders for older horses; the Alberta Fall Classic for older fillies and mares and the Red Diamond Express sprint stakes.

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Read 2232 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 September 2023 21:16