Thursday, February 5, 2009

Author Charles Leerhsen brings harness racing history to life in "Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch"

Ever since I first devoured Black Beauty, I've been a sucker for a good horse story. One of my perennial favorites is a book called The Secret Life of Cowboys, the lyrical, haunting (and true) account of Tom Groneberg's struggle to live the cowboy life in modern day Montana. One Good Horse, the follow-up from this frequent contributor to Cowboys & Indians Magazine, is also prominent on my bookshelf.

I'm proud to introduce to you my newest library addition, Charles Leehrsen's Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America.

If you are a die-hard harness racing fan, you no doubt know at least a little about Dan Patch. But if you are new to Standardbreds, it's unlikely you have even an inkling of what your grandparents and great-grandparents knew--that the most beloved figure in turn-of-the-century America was a horse. Born so crippled he was nearly put down, Dan Patch grew up to be fast...and famous.
By today's standards, Dan Patch's million dollars worth of endorrsement deals were not all that impressive. But when you consider that baseball's greatest hero at the time, Ty Cobb, was making $12,000, you understand a bit more about Dan Patch's superstar status.

Writing for USA Today in June, journalist Deirdre Donahue said:

At the starting gate of summer book sales, Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America by Charles Leerhsen is positioned nicely on the inside rail.

It's a terrific look at a legendary if now forgotten equine superstar named Dan Patch. Leerhsen does for early 20th-century American harness racing what Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit did for Depression-era Thoroughbred racing.

By all accounts, Dan Patch adored the roar of the crowd. At the dawn of the 20th century, Patch reigned as the Secretariat of harness racing at a time when it was more popular than Thoroughbred racing.

Dan Patch and owner M.W. Savage in their hey-day (Photo courtesy of Dan Patch Historical Society)

Born in Indiana in 1896, Dan Patch was a small-town Hoosier made good. Intended for recreational riding, the stallion showed such speed that at age 4 he began racing. During his racing years from 1900 through 1909, he was front-page newspaper copy.

At the height of his fame, he earned for his owner more than $1 million a year. His image appeared on everything from tonics to sleds to washing machines.

Crowds of 100,000 turned out for a glimpse of the stallion who possessed an unusually gentle temperament yet radiated charisma. Dwight Eisenhower lined up with his parents at the 1904 Kansas State Fair to see him, and Harry Truman recalled that as a boy he had written a fan letter.

Leerhsen, an editor at Sports Illustrated who has worked at Us Weekly and People, has a snappy pop style that will help readers grasp the difference between Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds, trotters and pacers. (To see the original article, click here.)

Nearly a century has passed since Dan Patch died in 1916. But under Leehrsen's skilled hand, he lives again in this exceedingly worthwhile book.

Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch is available in hardcover, paperback, and downloadable eBook form. To learn more, you can logon to the publisher's site at Simon & Schuster, or at

To learn more about Dan Patch online, visit the Dan Patch Historical Society at

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