cover image THE BIG HORSE


Joe McGinniss, Jr., . . Simon & Schuster, $24.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-6079-4

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)