Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Book Review: Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch

Sometimes you happen upon a nonfiction book that is written so well, with so many facts, and good storytelling, about a time long past, you become mesmerized. That's how I feel about this book by Charles Leerhsen.

The name Dan Patch was in my memory of historical horses but I had no idea the impact the little bay horse from Oxford,Indiana, had on the country in the early 1900's. Leerhsen scoured tons and tons of material to put together this historical account of one little crippled horse who had the country cheering at race tracks where he ran. Dan Patch became on of the country's first superstar athletes. People couldn't get enough of Dan as he won race after race,some rigged, most not. Leerhsen doesn't sugar coat the racing world in the early 1900's but you get a sense of innocence from the people who were fans of Dan Patch.

While I'm not a big fan of horse racing, in general, I do admire the great horse athletes and enjoy reading about the lives they led, the people who handled them and got them to the winner's circle. Not always the most pleasant part of the story, but without those people, there'd be no story. Sometimes a good part of the story, sometimes not so good, but all in all, Dan had a good life even during the years he was being used as a symbol for numerous commercial products.

Leerhsen emerged himself in the life and times, going as far as to try to find Dan's last resting spot somewhere in field near Savage, Minnesota, alongside a river. It had to be kept secret when the Great Dan Patch died, he was so famous, the owners feared fans would try to dig him up. Sounds like fans today. Who would have thought in 1916? An autopsy showed Dan's heart weighed 9 lbs 2 oz. which is four pounds heavier than an average horse's heart. It's believed that the oversized heart, which was an asset for Dan in his racing days, had hurt him in his post racing years. It was stated that Dan Patch had the heart of an athlete and that's probably what brought him to his end.

If you're interested in the history of the early 1900's, horse athletes and the people around them, you'll enjoy reading Leerhsen's work about a scraggly, not very pretty pacer who became America's most famous race horse.


Linda said...

I've heard about other racing greats having large hearts, too--wasn't it Secretariat whose heart was so big? I've never heard of Dan Patch--sure sounds like a good book.

Leslie said...

I think you're right about Secretariat. I was also thinking I'd read Zenyatta also has a bigger heart which has helped with her racing career.

Grey Horse Matters said...

Thanks for the review. I think somewhere in my subconscious I've heard about this horse, but I don't really remember much about him. I'm definitely going to get this book.