Monday, February 21, 2011

DAN PATCH - WORLD'S GREATEST HARNESS HORSE PACING CHAMPION

Thoroughbred Horse Racing has become a niche sport over the last 35 years, but Harness Horse Racing has gone beyond the concept of a niche sport.  I continue to be amazed that harness horse operations still exist in 2011, but surprisingly, they do.  They are rare sites on the map, but there are a few harness horse racing venues that are still in operation. 

The great harness horse champion, Dan Patch

100 years ago, Harness Racing was more popular than Baseball and Boxing; and the biggest star in the equine world of harness racing was the Standardbred pacer, Dan Patch.  It is difficult to fathom a world where a harness horse racing champion was a major celebrity, but he was.  Dan Patch was the world’s greatest harness horse champion.  He broke every record known to the racing world and one of his records – even 100 years later – still holds (it has only been equaled on one occasion, but never beaten).  Dan Patch was the Man O’ War, Citation, Secretariat, Zenyatta of the harness racing champion list.  He was a warrior chugging his way across the United States passing and beating rivals (many of whom were coked and boozed up) and passing his own time tests.  

"Crazy Good"- the superb biography on Dan Patch and his connections

This blog was started as a place to discuss, chat and virtually mingle with other fans of Thoroughbred Horse Racing, but having come across the 2008 book, “Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America” by Charles Leerhsen, I had to take a moment to discuss this superb showcase of the great harness champion. The book details not only the life of this superhorse, but the times of that era. In the realm of human history, 100 years doesn’t seem so long ago, but more technological and social changes have taken place in the last one hundred years to make it look like a thousand years have passed. It is difficult for an 80 year old living in today’s world to relate to the world of 1900-1915, let alone someone under the age of 20!  That time is so out of our memories and moments that it can only be reflected upon in either good fiction or excellent non-fiction. This book is a superb example of history defined.  The story covers the legendary equine, Dan Patch, but we also get a lovely tutorial in the history of his connections and the very history of America during that period of time.

Unlike the mighty running horses, Dan Patch was a pacer.  He was one hell of a speedy pacer. Leerhsen provides an outstanding retelling of an era that is long since past, but one of the finest attributes of the book is his detailing of Dan Patch’s life.  Dan comes alive so visibly that it is as though he were out in the pasture next door and I could wave at him and he would somehow understand that wave and then nod at my wave! 

I highly recommend this book. It’s a vividly crafted telling of a time, a place and a horse. 

Dan Patch, the miraculous Standardbred pacer was born on April 29, 1896 and died on Tuesday, July 11, 1916, so he made his 20th birthday. I hope he enjoyed his life. With his varied amount of travels, duties and races he deserved a good life on a farm. His second and final owner was a self-absorbed man who seemingly cared little for his equine giant. These horse bios always ramp up to the sad and melancholic. Horses are poetic creatures; and I fall for a well-told horse story better than any guy you’d meet on a dating site! 


Horse fans unite and order a copy of this 2008 entry.  I just recently discovered it and I finished the final page last night. 

God rest Dan Patch’s soul, heart and feet! 

For more information, you can go to http://www.danpatch.com/.  It turns out there is a Dan Patch Historical Society in Minnesota. I suspect the club is small, but I assume they are rabid.

Also, two of the most famous Standardbred pacers alive today reside in the Hall of Champions at the stunningly beautiful, Kentucky Horse Park.  Staying Together and Western Dreamer live, breathe, show and pasture at the Kentucky Horse Park, so if you want to see a living Standardbred champion, take a jaunt to the lovely bluegrass country of Lexington, Kentucky!  They may not be Dan Patch, but they may very well be one of his descendants.  For more information on Western Dreamer, Staying Together and the Kentucky Horse Park, please visit www.kyhorsepark.com.


Copyright Horse Racing - Past and Present 2011



  

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