Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson, who trained his family's homebred Volponi
to win the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), died at his Rockville Centre, N.Y., home. Johnson, whose wife, Mary Kay, died in May, was 78.
A Hall of Fame member since 1997, Johnson led the Belmont Park trainer standings four times, and was leading trainer at Aqueduct three times and once at Saratoga. He conditioned such New York grade I winners as High Schemes, Maplejinsky, Nasty and Bold, Naskra's Breeze, and Quiet Little Table, who beat Forego in winning the 1977 Suburban Handicap (gr. I).
Racing for the Johnson family's Amherst Stable in partnership, Volponi registered the lengthiest win margin in Classic history, scoring by 6 1/2 lengths. Amherst Stable, Johnson, and Volponi were honored with the inaugural New York Turf Writers Association President's Award.
Johnson had returned home for a minor surgical procedure on Thursday, and planned to return to Saratoga Race Course on Friday, where he had entered Port Chester in the fourth race.
Johnson's career spanned more than 60 years. He taught himself the game, first buying a horse named Song Master for $75 at a Chicago auction in 1942.
Johnson paid his dues in the Midwest before eventually settling in New York, where he was leading trainer at Belmont Park (four times), Aqueduct (three times) and Saratoga in 1983.
Johnson made a name for himself training horses like Quiet Little Table, who upset Forego in the 1977 Suburban Handicap, Amen II, Match the Hatch and Maplejinsky. But it wasn't until 2002 that he became a national hero.
That October, at his old hometown track of Arlington Park, he sent out Volponi under jockey Jose Santos to win the Breeders' Cup Classic at better than 43-1. Volponi's 6 1/2-length victory over Medaglia d'Oro ranks as the largest winning mark in the history of the 1 1/4-mile Classic.
Johnson's survivors include daughters Kathy and Karen, who is a turf writer.
Cause of death is unknown.