Crazy Good: the true story of Dan Patch, the most famous horse in America by Charles Leerhsen
Dan Patch, for those of you who might be unfamiliar, was a Standardbred pacer who turned the harness rading world on its ear.I picked the book up in the first place because I remember hearing about Dan Patch in Indiana (my grandparents lived for a while in Bloomington) and the name rang a bell from lyrics in the musical The Music Man, as well. I enjoyed reading it, even as long as it took me to get through.
Born in 1896 in the small town of Oxford, Indiana, the horse that was to become a cultural icon was almost put down immediately due to a crippled rear leg. The offspring of an obscurely bred, lame mare and nasty-tempered stallion with a decent harness racing record, Dan Patch went on to become the first horse to pace a mile in 1:56 seconds. He eventually lowered that record, albeit under slightly dubious circumstances, to 1:55.
Dan Patch paced naturally, no hobbles required. (If you've ever seen a trotter race, and it's rare to find a track still in operation anymore, you'll likely have seen horses race in hobbles & assorted other paraphenalia intended to keep them from breaking gait.) He was something of fluke in other ways, too - traveling exceedingly well, handling crouds with equanimity, and taking almost every publicity event in stride.
The story Leerhsen writes is at once less and more than the simple biography of a great horse. It's a chatty, sometimes catty, account of a horse's life, of the lives and personalities of the men who surrounded him, and also a window into another time.
If you're curious and would like to know more, check out the Dan Patch Historical Society or check out a brief bio courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society. If you're intrigued, track down a copy of Crazy Good - simply put, if you've seen or read Seabiscuit and enjoyed it, or read Old Bones, the Wonder Horse and felt likewise, give Crazy Good a shot.