THE BEST THERE EVER WAS

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



Dan Patch represented his era to perfection. The demographic center of the United States had moved into his home state shortly before he was foaled in Oxford, Indiana, in 1896. A few years after his death in 1916, the center was to move out of Indiana and into Illinois. During Dan Patch’s lifetime, the Midwest discovered itself at the economic and political centers of American life as well. Dan Patch, as well as most of the people involved in his story, were Midwesterners first and foremost.

 

Horse racing, too, found itself at the center of American sporting life. Professional team sports were developing and evolving and had not yet usurped public attention.  Harness racing was particularly important in the Midwest, and its stars were widely known and popular.



He was a pacer, a horse whose racing gait was only recently becoming widely popular. Decades earlier, trotters were far more popular, but racing fans and owners had now discovered, in the early years of the 20th century, that pacers were fast–faster than trotters. More on the difference between trotters and pacers here.



Dan Patch became known almost as soon as he reached the racetrack, thanks to the burgeoning press and the new importance of sports coverage in the thousands of newspapers across the continent. When he reached the hands of his final owner, his fame reached a level unmatched by any other horse, and most other celebrities. You’ll find more on this owner and other here.


THE STORY OF THE MOST FAMOUS  HORSE IN AMERICA AND THE PEOPLE WHO CAME ALONG FOR THE RIDE

A NEW BOOK ABOUT THE LIFE AND TIMES OF DAN PATCH

From the small stage of his local county fair to the big time of the Brighton Beach track in Brooklyn, Dan Patch faced the starter 56 times, winning 54 heats. All races were official wins. He then raced against the stopwatch.

Three different owners profited from possession of the continent’s most famous horse. Each in his way personified the era: the successful small-town store owner, the gambler who found a way to stay one step ahead of the law, and the relentless marketer. Here you’ll find new  information on each.

Three trainer/drivers shared responsibility for Dan Patch’s racing career. Each eventually found himself overwhelmed by the circumstances.

Real races, speed exhibitions, stationary appearances at state fairs--it didn’t matter to the people who loved Dan Patch. They came out by the tens of thousands. Perhaps a million people saw him during his public career, with thousands more visiting him in retirement.

Race-by-race review of Dan Patch’s extraordinary career

The shopkeeper, the gambling man, and the relentless promoter

The old man, the superstar, and the unexpected celebrity

The thousands of people who loved him

Dan Patch’s fame was so great that it survived his retirement from the racetrack. His reputation made millions for his final owner, Marion Willis Savage, who used him to promote his primary product of horse feed supplements, but also dozens of other products. Savage claimed that he assembled a mailing list of over a million names by offering free Dan Patch posters to people who mailed their names and addresses to the Savage factory in Minneapolis. See some of the Savage ads here.


The author of The Best There Ever Was: Dan Patch and the Dawn of the American Century  is the author of six previous books. She was a racing commentator for ESPN and NBC Sports. More on Sharon here.

Published by Skyhorse July 2012.

Available for preorder at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Walmart, and other retailers now.

Currier and Ives understood Dan Patch’s era – the pacing horse taking over from the trotter, then man-made contrivances taking over from both.