THE BEST THERE EVER WAS

DAN PATCH AND THE DAWN OF THE AMERICAN CENTURY
A book by
SHARON B. SMITH

From 1902 until his death in 1916 Dan Patch enjoyed a unique celebrity. For a few years the pacing horse was perhaps the most famous athlete on the continent, known well beyond the boundaries of his stage. Like baseball’s Honus Wagner, he could sell products to people who knew little about his sport. Although his celebrity was honed by his human connections, Dan Patch earned it himself, with spectacular performances during a three-year racing career and the six years he spent as a kind of traveling road show, demonstrating his speed around the country. Dan Patch was an equine representation of his place and time.  He’s less known today, of course, but hardly unknown, particularly in his native Midwest.

DAN PATCH MAY HAVE BEEN THE MOST FAMOUS ATHLETE IN NORTH AMERICA

His official record, prompted by runners, came in Lexington, Kentucky, on October 7, 1905. His 1:55 1/4 record stood until 1938. The following year he went faster, a mile in 1:55, but that was disallowed because of the use of a windshield. His owner used the figure for promotion anyway.

His world record lasted 33 years

Then challenged only by stopwatch and pacemaker

From 1900 through half way through 1902, Dan Patch competed in 19 races, each consisting of multiple heats. He won all 19, although he lost two heats in the process. In each loss, his driver--first John Wattles and then Myron McHenry–was suspected of intentionally not trying to win.

Winner in every race he started

Unbeaten in his racing career

At the age of 14 Dan Patch still appeared under harness at state fairs around the Midwest although he was no longer asked for speed.

Dan Patch’s first life story appeared in 1906. The most recent, The Best There Ever Was: Dan Patch and the Dawn of the American Century, is published July 2012.

Dan Patch becomes the fastest harness horse in history

Dan Patch joins the Grand Circuit

Dan Patch begins his racing career at Indiana fairs

Dan Patch is foaled in Oxford, Indiana

The son of the star pacing stallion Joe Patchen and the more obscure pacing mare Zelica, Dan Patch was born to pace. But just a couple of generations back, his ancestors preferred to trot. So where did his gait come from?

Hundreds of years of equine history contributed

A pacing horse like no other

Savage attached Dan Patch’s name to everything he could think of, from sheet music, to washing machines, to ladies’ scarves, to automobiles, to farm equipment. But his biggest profits came from Dan Patch-endorsed horse feed supplements.

Marion Willis Savage made millions from Dan Patch’s name

Retired from racing but not from selling

Dan Patch dies in Savage, Minnesota

1905

1903

1901

1900

1896

Dan Patch chronology

The Book

1916

Dan Patch sets his official record of 1:55 ¼