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Friday, August 6
Hall of Fame trainer P.G. Johnson dies



SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Hall of Fame trainer Phil Johnson, who won the 2002 Breeders' Cup Classic with long shot Volponi, died Friday. He was 78.

Johnson, who had undergone throat cancer treatment for several years, died at his home in Rockville Centre, N.Y., his family said.

Johnson bred, owned and trained Volponi, who won the $4 million BC Classic at Arlington Park at odds of 43-1. It was the biggest win of Johnson's 60-plus year training career.

"He was a great man and an established institution in New York,'' veteran jockey Richard Migliore said Friday morning, standing a few yards away from Johnson's barn at Saratoga Race Course. "We're all going to miss his wit and wisdom.''

Johnson, born in Chicago, broke into racing in 1942, when he bought a horse named Song Master for $75 at an auction. Two years later, the horse gave Johnson his first winner.

Among the top horses trained by Johnson, who operated Amherst Stable out of his home, were Quiet Little Table, who upset the great Forego in the 1977 Suburban Handicap, Kiri's Clown, Maplejinsky, Match the Hatch, Naskra, Nasty and Bold and Volponi.

Johnson won training titles at all three New York tracks during his career -- four times at Belmont, three at Aqueduct and once at Saratoga.

Last year, Johnson's horses won 20 of 166 starts, with 22 seconds and 26 thirds for earnings of $1,376,268. He had 11 winners from 76 starters this year, with a promising 2-year-old colt, Port Chester, scheduled to run in Friday's fourth race at Saratoga.

Johnson, also known as "P.G.'' was elected to racing's Hall of Fame in 1997.

Volponi was his biggest star, finishing first or second in 24 of 31 career starts for earnings of $3,187,232. The horse was retired after finishing last in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic. Now a 6-year-old, Volponi stands at Hopewell Farm near Midway, Ky.

Volponi's win in the BC Classic at Arlington Park was somewhat overshadowed because it triggered the Pick Six betting scandal. Three men were given jail sentences for their part in trying to manipulate a bet that would have produced nearly a $3 million payout. Volponi returned $89 to win.

Johnson's wife of 59 years, Mary Kay, died earlier this year. Johnson is survived by two daughters, Kathy and Karen, a reporter for the Daily Racing Form.



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