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The Big Horse [Kindle Edition]

Joe McGinniss
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Kindle Price: $13.99
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Book Description

"The big horse," in racing vernacular, is the animal that brings fame and fortune to a stable. He's the heavyweight champion, the All-American quarterback, the four-legged Michael Jordan of the barn. Seabiscuit was once Tom Smith's "big horse." A generation ago, Secretariat was Lucien Lauren's. In 2003, Funny Cide was Barclay Tagg's. In sixty years as a trainer, P. G. Johnson had never had one -- until Volponi.

P. G. Johnson was a blue-collar wizard, a hardscrabble tough guy who had come east from Chicago, determined to make his mark on New York. And he did. He became leading trainer at all three New York tracks -- Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct -- as well as at Florida's Tropical Park. And he did it without ever winning a Triple Crown or Breeders' Cup event, or having "the big horse."

"I never knew how to kiss rich people's asses, and I got too old to learn. If no owner was going to give me a big horse, I figured I'd have to find one myself," he said. He did that, in his seventies, buying a mare for $8,000, breeding her to a $20,000 stallion, and in 1998 producing Volponi, the horse that would change his life.

In October 2002, weakened by surgery and radiation treatment for cancer, P. G. watched Volponi -- the longest shot in the field at 43 to 1 -- bring home more than $2 million by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic, the richest race in America.

The following summer at Saratoga, McGinniss -- journalist, investigative reporter, and horse racing obsessive -- began showing up, more Tuesdays with Morrie than Guys and Dolls, at P. G.'s barn in the predawn hours to listen to the inside racing stories and lore P. G. had gathered. McGinniss came to appreciate that Johnson was not only a stellar horseman but an American original whose wit and wisdom carried far beyond the confines of the racetrack.

As for Volponi, the big horse had given P. G. the perfect Disney ending with the Breeders' Cup victory, and, indeed, Disney soon bought film rights to P. G.'s life story. "He'll be even better next year," P. G. had said, but by the time McGinniss got to Saratoga, Volponi had not won a race in nine months. His faith undiminished, P. G. continued to race Volponi against the best, at Saratoga and beyond, until in the end it came down to the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic in Santa Anita, a race only one horse in history had ever won twice. As fires burned in the Southern California hills, Volponi -- with Funny Cide's jockey, Jose Santos, in the saddle -- ran the last race of his life.

This book is about what happened that day, about what came after, and about much of what had come before. It's the most exciting, rewarding, and heartwarming story about the world of horse racing that you'll ever read, by one of America's finest writers, at the top of his form.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 2042 KB
  • Print Length: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (May 12, 2010)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003LSSY92
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,120,118 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Place! August 9, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
THE BIG HORSE is to what every trainer aspires. It is a horse that captures the imagination and wins the biggest stakes. P.G. Johnson's first big horse Volponi came in the twilight of Hall of Fame racing career. Volponi captured the 2002 Breeder's Cup Classic and prepares for the 2003 race in this account of horse and trainer.

As a book Seabiscuit did it better, but that is almost like saying as a horse Secretariat did it better. Joe McGinniss takes you into the world of 21st Century horse racing in the same way Laura Hillenbrand returned us to the glamour of horse racing in the late 1930s.

With a point of view switching between author and trainer the cadences are those of the denizens of the stables and betting windows. This particular authenticity surpasses even Hillenbrand.

McGinniss has returned, and how we have missed him.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Horse October 5, 2004
By Amdream
At last a McGinnis book where he doesn't betray the trust of the protagonist!

McGinniss' writing remains fluid and engaging. His subject -- P.G. Johnson, a legendary, if unsung, horse trainer -- is a fascinating curmudgeon. And what the story lacks in plot, it makes up for in rich character development.

And, best of all, after finishing the book, I continued to like and admire the subject.

A great horseracing book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Entertaining March 11, 2005
One of the best books I have ever read about horse racing. McGinnis is unsentimental, clear eyed and far too old to be sucked in by the romanticism that surrounds the track...

Yet he succumbs, as any of us who love the horses does. But this book is mainly a biography of P.J. Johnston just about the last of a dying breed.

Listen, if you like horse racing, you've got to get this book.

If you like McGinnis, ditto.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Right idea, wrong horse June 25, 2005
Hmmm. I'm a McGinniss fan. Was bowled over by his handling of the material in Fatal Vision. Ditto for The Third Brother...or whatever his book about Ted Kennedy was called. So when I saw he'd written a book about the Big Horse--no hesitation. I bought the thing sight unseen, reviews unread. But, like another reviewer said, McGinniss is either tired of writing, or living, or once he'd chosen his trainer and his horse, he got tired of them. The book just hasn't got that electric feel McGinniss usually delivers in spades. And it's short. Way too short. Is this also reflective of his interest? Now, if he'd chosen a better subject? Funny Cide and Barclay Tagg? And leaving out the "loveable" owners? Maybe we might have had a book. As it is, there's some lovely stuff here, but there's not enough of it. I was slightly cheesed off. A book called The Big Horse should be a big book about a really Big Horse.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What about Volponi? August 10, 2004
By Azeri
The Big Horse is a very well-written book that provides insight to the life of a horse trainer. Interesting, unless you bought the book for the horse. Although the book is supposed to be centered around the horse, there are no details of his races, or much about his personality etc. It is a great way to remember the late P.G. Johnson, but now write a book for Volponi!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Living a dream July 26, 2004
In THE BIG HORSE, Joe McGinniss tells the story of one horse trainer's desire and longing to have a horse that will bring fame as well as riches to his stable. This book may surprise McGinniss' readers, as this one does not have the spicy twist and turns we are accustomed to in his former books. Instead, McGinnis tells a truly unique and inspiring story about P.G. Johnson and a horse named Volponi. In his sixty years as a trainer, P.G. Johnson has never had a big horse. He has bred and trained some of the best, but none of them could compare to thoroughbreds like Funny Cide, Secretariat or Seabiscuit who all won races that brought in purses that totaled in the millions. He is an authority on training horses and well respected in the industry. As Joe McGinniss follows him from racetracks at Saratoga, to Belmont to the Aqueduct, we learn about the industry in all its glory and get a peek at the seamy underbelly of the profession. P.G. gives a blow-by-blow account of what it's like to be a horse trainer and have all your heartaches, desires and dreams tied to that one horse that can hopefully bring it all home. Volponi may be P.G.'s final chance at the big horse.

This was a well-written and very interesting read. McGinniss did not disappoint readers with his storytelling abilities. I was catapulted into the horse racing industry in its current state, which is a sport on the decline. I was also allowed glimpses into the past when horse racing was the sport of the season and spectators came in droves to the tune of tens of thousands. The journey included walks with trainers, jockeys and owners to get a complete taste of what this sport is about. For those that love the sport of horse racing, this book is a must have.

Reviewed by Brenda M. Lisbon

of The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars McGinnis must have needed the money December 27, 2004
By J. Wolf
Oh what a dissapointment. Joe McGinnis, the great storyteller, wrote a book on my favorite subject: horseracing. I couldnt wait to get the book. Well, I did -- and I found I wasted my money.

Mcginnis was dying to write a horseracing book. He searched for a good story the horse Volponi and a down and out -- old-timey crusty trainer. It doesnt fly.

While giving some insight into the game of horseracing, the author couldnt make me, the reader, feel any affection for the story's main character. I mean, while I was reading the book, I would think to myself how crusty, nasty, cheap and stupid this trainer was. I had no emotional involvement in it at all. Actually, that is not true. I disliked the trainer so much, that I was glad his horse lost.

Another thing, the story line: the Big Horse that McGinnis chose, Volponi -- lost more often than he won. Not much of a story there. The trainer was small time -- the horse was a brief flash in the pan -- I mean, who cares?

mcginnis as well seems to have lost some of his gift for the story. His skills were not readily extent in this book. Save your money; don't buy this book.
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