Crazy Good
The True Story of Dan Patch,
the Most Famous Horse in America

by Charles Leerhsen

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

Simon & Schuster: New York, 2008

355 pages November 2019

Racing to fame

Dan Patch had a great life for a horse, albeit he almost was put down the night he was born because one hind leg was malformed. He had a long career as a successful harness racer, breaking record after record. It's a joy following Dan Patch's races and speed trials, the much more so as he had a great personality, particularly friendly to children who wanted to pet or ride him. In the off seasons he sired a great many colts and fillies. Charles Leerhsen's carefully researched and easy narrative in Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America clears up many myths still current, tells the often suspenseful stories of those races and speed trials, and not incidentally, furnishes quite a lot of interesting technical details of how race horses were raised, trained, and raced in Dan Patch's life, 1896-1916: the peak of harness racing.

Unfortunately the fine qualities of Dan Patch are balanced by the people in his life: mostly amateur, incompetent, grasping, crooked, or a combination of these. Leerhsen's presentation of the technicalities of squeezing out each next second of speed as horses reached for the two-minute mile is interesting and clear even to those who like me possess truly minimal knowledge of horses or the sport. The showmanship involved as Dan Patch was made into a national phenomenon is impressive if over-the-top. The lack of what we might call personal feeling toward their horses among owners and harness drivers is only partly redeemed by their grasp of what the great horse needed to perform his best. This depersonalization I find really the saddest part of Dan Patch's story.

Crazy Good tells an often exciting story of a sport essentially gone; and more, of an American attitude toward sport now changed almost beyond recognition. If you want the true story of the great Dan Patch, and those long-gone sportsmen and fans, read Crazy Good. He really was that good, in all ways.


© 2019 Robert Wilfred Franson

Dan Patch Historical Society

R. W. Franson's review of the film
The Great Dan Patch

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