Cindy's Horse Racing Website Index

Phil "P.G." Johnson 1925 - 2004

P.G. Johnson and his wife Mary Kay at the 2002 Breeders' Cup
Date: August 6, 2004

On the morning of August 6, 2004, racing lost yet another one of its living legends when trainer P.G. Johnson died at his Rockville Centre, New York, home at the age of 78. Born in Chicago, his career in racing spanned six decades with his first horse being a $75 auction purchase in 1942 named Song Master who went on to become Johnson's first winner two years later at Hawthorne Race Course.

In the early years of his training career he moved around the country, starting off at home in the Midwest circuit of Arlington Park and Detroit Fair Grounds, then Florida and a stint in Maryland. Eventually he settled in the competitive New York circuit where he rewrote the history books. He won the Belmont Park training title four times, Aqueduct three times, and Saratoga once. But it was at Saratoga where his name became legend, synonymous with such Spa heroes as jockey Angel Cordero Jr. and the late Fourstardave. Starting off with a $5000 claimer who won the 9th race on August 20, 1962, he is the only trainer to record at least one win at the Saratoga meet every year for thirty-six consecutive years (up to and including 2003), and 40 of the 41 years he has raced there. His Saratoga stakes winners include 1983 Diana Handicap winner Geraldine's Store, 1988 Alabama Stakes winner Maplejinsky, and 1995 Sword Dancer Invitational winner Excellent Tipper. He also trained Quiet Little Table who upset the great Forego in the 1977 Suburban Handicap. His exploits earned him an induction into racing's Hall of Fame in 1997, on his third nomination.

P.G. Johnson (far left) with Volponi in the Classic winner's circle.
His career finally came full circle just 17 days after his 77th birthday. Returning to the track that kicked off his sixty years in the business, he saddled a 43-1 longshot named Volponi in the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic, who his family owned as Amherst Stable. From the Arlington grandstand surrounded by his proud family and friends, he watched as jockey Jose Santos piloted Volponi home by the largest winning margin in Classic history, a whopping 6 1/2 lengths over the best older horses on the continent. Just this year, Joe McGinniss wrote a book about this exploit title The Big Horse.

On May 25th, 2004, Johnson's wife Mary Kay passed away after six decades together. As expected, at the end of July he moved his stable from Belmont up to Saratoga for the important summer meet and another chance to extend the streak. On Thursday, August 5, he left Saratoga for the last time, going home for a minor surgical procedure only to lose his life the next morning. Funeral arrangements are private, although a memorial service will be scheduled at a later date. Mr. Johnson is survived by his daughters, Kathy and Karen, both of whom were partners in the successful family-owned Amherst Stable; their respective husbands, Don Brockway and Noel Michaels; and a granddaughter, Emma Brockway. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to the Grayson-Jockey Club Equine Research Foundation. Johnson truly was a living legend of racing and will be missed by fans and horsemen alike.

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