Dan Patch (April 29, 1896-July 11, 1916) was the outstanding pacer of his day. Dan Patch broke world speed records at least 14 times in the early 1900s, finally setting the world's record for the fastest mile by a harness horse (1m:55s) during a time trial in 1906, a record that stood unmatched for 32 years.
Dan Patch was a brown American bred Standardbred stallion sired by Joe Patchen, his dam Zelica was by Wilkesberry. Dan Patch was foaled on 29 April 1896, in a barn in the town of Oxford, Indiana. He was named for his owner, Daniel (Dan) Messner, and his sire, Joe Patchen. The young horse showed little promise in his first year, but a local trainer named Johnny Wattles saw potential in the animal. Wattles received permission from Messner to train Dan Patch and developed the horse's racing abilities until 1900, when Messner sold the horse to Manley E. Sturges of New York, for a record $20,000. Sturges, in turn, sold Dan Patch in 1902 to a resident of the city of Hamilton (later Savage) in Minnesota, named Marion Willis Savage. Dan Patch lived in Minnesota from 1902 until his death on 11 July 1916.
Dan Patch lost only two heats in his whole career, and never lost a race. His speed was such that other owners sometimes refused to race their horses against him, leaving him to run against the clock.
Dan Patch's official record of 1:55¼ for the pacing mile was set in 1905 in Lexington, Kentucky. His 1:55 unofficial record for the pacing mile was set in 1906 at the Minnesota State Fair, but not officially recognized because of the use of a prompter with a windshield. This record was tied 32 years later in 1938 when Billy Direct became the official 1:55 world record holder. Marion Savage was so indignant about Dan Patch's 1:55 mark not being recognized (the rules having recently been changed) that he renamed the International Stock Food Farm in Savage to the International 1:55 Stock Food Farm. The 1:55 mark was equaled in following years, but was not broken until 1960, 54 years after Dan Patch's run, when Adios Butler paced the first sub-1:55 mile in 1:54:3. Dan Patch's fastest race mile was 1:58.
Dan Patch's achievements made him a sports celebrity, with extensive product endorsements including toys, cigars, cut plug chewing tobacco, washing machines and automobiles. 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 a $1 million a year.
Crowds of 100,000 turned out for a glimpse of the horse, which 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 to the horse.
Dan Patch retired undefeated in 1909 as the holder of nine world records and spent much of his later life attending exhibitions.
Owner Marion Savage and Dan Patch died within thirty-one hours of each other, in July 1916. Marion Savage died at age 57 due to a heart attack just after Dan had died.
The City of Savage, Minnesota, was renamed for Dan Patch's owner, Marion Willis Savage, in 1904. Dan Patch Avenue on the Minnesota State Fair grounds is named for the horse. Dan Patch Drive and Dan Patch Lane in Savage, Minnesota, are also named after Dan Patch.
A century later, the land in Savage once occupied by the "Taj Mahal" stables and racetracks now stands vacant, though the outline of a track is visible from the air , near the intersection of County Highway 13 and Vernon Avenue. The land is posted "no trespassing" and no historical marker documents that anything of significance ever stood there.
As rumor has it, Dan Patch is buried somewhere on the Taj Mahal property in an unmarked grave. The tombstone in Oxford, Indiana, is just a memorial. Dan Patch's home town of Oxford continues to honor the horse at its annual "Dan Patch Days" festival, a festival that is scheduled for the weekend following Labor Day each year. Savage, Minnesota, also holds a celebration called "Dan Patch Days" annually in June.
Prior Lake High School, located in Savage, Minnesota, has a Stadium nearby named "Dan Patch Stadium".
The brass era automobile maker Dan Patch was founded in Minneapolis in 1911. The company was owned by Savage and was one of 16 manufacturers in Minnesota at the time. This operation came to an end when the Ford Motor Company began its assembly operations in St. Paul.
The proposed Dan Patch Corridor commuter rail line in southern Minnesota runs along the tracks of the former Dan Patch line, created in 1907 by Marion W. Savage. Passenger service began the summer of 1910, with travel from Bloomington, Minnesota to Minneapolis. Savage’s plan of running rail through to Iowa never materialized as the citizens of Faribault, Minnesota would have nothing to do with it. The railroad was declared bankrupt in 1917 and purchased a year later. Savage’s track however would spur growth along all the cities it lay and service industries like Ford, John Deere and Thermo King.
The song "Ya Got Trouble", from the Broadway musical and film The Music Man, makes a reference to the horse in expounding upon the "degradation" of jockeys sitting on the horse during a race, when Harold Hill (Robert Preston) states:
Not a wholesome trottin' race, but a race where they set down right on the horse!
Like to see some stuck-up jockey boy sittin' on Dan Patch?
Make your blood boil?
Well, I should say!
- Dan Patch Historical Society Retrieved 2010-2-6
- Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1950), p.158.
- Dan Patch Historical Society Newsletter, Fall 2010
- Dan Patch Historical Society Newsletter, Fall 2010
- History of Savage
- Dan Patch Days
- The Music Man: music and lyrics by Meredith Willson
- Leerhsen, Charles, Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America, 2008, New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Smith, Sharon B., The Best There Ever Was: Dan Patch and the Dawn of the American Century, 2012, New York: Skyhorse Publishing.
- Dan Patch Toastmasters club website.
- Dan Patch, MNopedia.