Cover image for The big horse
The big horse
McGinniss, Joe.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster, [2004]

Physical Description:
vi, 263 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SF335.U6 M425 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



Joe McGinniss - journalist, investigative reporter, and horse racing obsessive - recounts the heartwarming story of veteran trainer P. G. Johnson who, in sixty years as a leading trainer at all three New York tracks, had never had a "big horse." Then, in his seventies, he bought a mare, bred her, and produced Volponi, who won the Breeder's Cup Classic in 2002.

Author Notes

Joe McGinniss was born on December 9, 1942. He graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1964 and worked as a newspaper journalist. He wrote several nonfiction books including The Selling of the President, Going to Extremes, Fatal Vision, The Miracle of Castel di Sangro and The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. He also wrote a novel entitled The Dream Team and a memoir entitled Heroes. He died of prostate cancer on March 10, 2014 at the age of 71.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Horse-racing enthusiasts might well envy McGinniss for his assignment, which was to hang about three of the country's most beautiful tracks--Saratoga, Belmont Park, and Santa Anita--in the company of Hall of Fame trainer P. G. Johnson from mid-July through late October of last year. It's hard to be jealous for long, though, because McGinniss is generous about sharing his insider's view of racing, which he gets almost exclusively from Johnson, a straight-talking veteran of 60 years in the game. Johnson is campaigning Volponi, the best horse he has ever laid hands on--his big horse, in the parlance of the track. Volponi won the country's richest race, the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, in 2002, and McGinniss chronicles his bid for a repeat victory in that race. There is more melancholy than glory in the tale the author finally has to tell, however, as Volponi loses race after race while his 75-year-old trainer's health deteriorates along with his spirits. The story becomes an unintended but clearly recognized metaphor for the decline in popularity of horse racing, which has been surpassed by pastimes whose charms are more accessible. But racing's charms are still present, rich and abundant, and McGinniss makes that clear as well. It's a tough game, full of frustration and disappointment, but, when seen through Johnson's eyes, it's a game that is eminently worth playing. Those who read McGinniss' perceptive, funny, and entertaining account of it are likely to agree. --Dennis Dodge Copyright 2004 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

McGinniss's new book finds him trying to recapture his lost love of horse racing by following P.G. Johnson, an aging trainer, and his "big horse," Volponi, through the 2003 racing season. Johnson, a Hall of Fame trainer, is a tough-as-nails, tell-it-like-it-is horseman, and McGinniss uses him and his 2002 Breeder's Cup Classic-winning horse as the linchpins holding together this varied collection of factoids, trivia and personal observations of the past, present and future of horse racing. Interspersing his own memories of Triple Crown Winners Citation, Seattle Slew and Affirmed with observations about the present state of horse racing and a retelling of Johnson's life story, McGinniss paints a compelling and bittersweet picture of the dying sport of horse racing and the dying breed of old school horse trainers like Johnson. McGinniss is a master storyteller, but the story he has chosen to tell is not as strong as those he has told in past works, like The Miracle of Castel di Sangro. Volponi is not a superstar, and Johnson's story, while touching, holds few of the twists and turns that make for momentous tale. Still, there's no questioning McGinniss's writing ability. This book is a lot like the racing career of Volponi: impressive yet, despite its flashes of excellence, not transcendent enough to qualify it as great. Agent, Dennis Holahan. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

We doubt that anyone will say neigh to a book on the 2003 horseracing season from the author of The Selling of the President. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One It was raining and still dark when I got to the barn. The barn was located behind the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course. Saratoga is in upstate New York. The training track had been named in the early years, when people had to walk rather than drive to reach it, and its distance from the main track made it seem as remote as Oklahoma. I squished through the mud, amid dark silhouettes of horses. It was 6 A.M. on the Monday of the last week of July 2003 -- the first week of Saratoga's six-week racing season. It also was the first time in more than thirty years that I'd been in the Saratoga stable area. "Can I help you?" "I'm looking for Mr. Johnson." "What the hell for?" The voice was like sandpaper. The speaker was a short man with rounded shoulders. He was wearing a rain jacket and baseball cap, and standing, stooped, beneath a wooden overhang in front of a stall about halfway down the shed row. I hadn't seen him since 1971, and I hadn't actually met him even then, but I knew this had to be P.G. "I called you last night," I said. "You told me I could meet you here this morning." "Why would I have said that? Oh, Christ, you must be the guy I'm supposed to be nice to so my daughter doesn't lose her goddamned job." I could hardly see him in the dark, through the rain. "If you have any questions," he said, "I'll try to answer them. If it's not inconvenient, I might even tell you the truth. But I hope you don't have too many. Ocala's my assistant, but don't bother him, he's a son of a bitch. And try to stay out of the way. I'm a working horse trainer, not a goddamned tourist destination." He turned, and started to shuffle back toward the end of the barn, to the small, dirt-floored cubicle that served as his office at Saratoga. "I wanted to meet you thirty-two years ago," I called after him. "You're late." "The first time I ever bet a hundred dollars was on a horse of yours. 1970. It was the day of the Travers. Cote-de-Boeuf. Jean Cruguet rode him. Four to one in the morning line. He finished out of the money." "You shouldn't bet. I quit that foolishness years ago." "Later on, can I see Volponi?" "Yeah, but for Christ's sake don't try to pet him, unless you want to start typing with your toes." Copyright (c) 2004 by Joe McGinniss Excerpted from The Big Horse by Joe McGinniss All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.