Dan Patch

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Dan Patch
Dan Patch in harness
Breed Standardbred
Gait Pace
Sire Joe Patchen
Grandsire Patchen Wilkes
Dam Zelica
Damsire Wilkesberry
Sex Stallion
Foaled April 29, 1896
Died July 11, 1916
Country United States
Color Dark bay
Breeder Daniel Messner, Jr.
Owner Daniel Messner, Jr.
Manley E. Sturges (1902)
Marion Willis Savage (1902-1916)
Record undefeated
Driver John Wattles (1900)
Myron McHenry (1901-1903)
Harry Hersey (1904-1909)
Mile record 1:5514
unofficially 1:55
Harness Racing Hall of Fame (1953)
Hall of Fame Immortal
Last updated on January 2017

Dan Patch (April 29, 1896 – July 11, 1916) was a noted American Standardbred pacer. At a time when harness racing was one of the largest sports in the nation, Dan Patch was a major celebrity. He was undefeated in open competition and was so dominant on the racetrack that other owners eventually refused to enter their horses against him. Instead, he ended his racing career performing time trials and traveled extensively on exhibition, earning over $1 million in purses and attendance fees. Dan Patch broke world speed records at least 14 times in the early 1900s. In 1905, he set a world's record for the fastest mile by a harness horse (1:5514 – 1 minute, 55 14 seconds) that stood unmatched for over 30 years. Unofficially, Dan Patch broke this record in 1906 with a clocking of 1:55.


Dan Patch was a mahogany bay Standardbred stallion who was bred by Daniel (Dan) Messner, Jr., a prosperous dry goods merchant from Oxford, Indiana. In late 1894, Messner purchased a three-year-old filly named Zelica for $255, planning to use her as a buggy horse. Zelica had gone lame in her only start[1] and was later estimated to be worth under $100 at the time. In 1895, Messner paid a $150 stud fee to breed her to Joe Patchen, a top quality racehorse but an untried stallion.[2][3] The resulting colt was foaled on April 29, 1896 at the livery stable in Oxford. His legs were so crooked that he could not at first stand on his own, leading many of the locals to call him "Messner's Folly". Some even suggested he be put down. Instead, Messner and his friends supported the colt so he could ingest the colostrum (first milk) from Zelica. The friends continued to help the foal for the first two days until he was able to stand on his own. His legs gradually grew straighter, although he still had crooked hocks, especially on his left hind leg. The colt developed an alert, cheerful personality and was noted for his intelligence.[4][5]

In 1897, Messner applied to the American Trotting Association for the name Dan Patchen, based on his own first name and the last name of the colt's sire, with Dan P. as an alternative. Both names were taken so the Trotting Association assigned a similar name, Dan Patch.[4]

Zelica continued to be used as a buggy horse with her colt running freely alongside until he was weaned at around five or six months. At first, the young horse showed little promise. "The only redeemable feature about the little fellow was that he was friendly and cute" recalled Messner. "I honestly thought the colt's future would be confined to hauling a delivery wagon." However, a close friend named John Wattles, the owner of the livery stable in which Dan Patch was foaled, saw potential in the colt. Wattles received permission from Messner to train Dan Patch and gradually developed the horse's abilities.[6] By late 1898, Messner was able to use Dan Patch as his buggy horse since Zelica was again in foal, and even hooked the horse up to his sleigh over the winter. The locals were increasingly impressed by the almost black colt, who loved to move fast but was biddable enough to pull young boys behind him on the sleigh.[4]

At maturity, Dan Patch stood 16 hands (64 inches, 163 cm) tall at the withers and weighed a "hefty" 1,165 pounds.[7] His hindquarters were notably higher than his front. He had a short body and long legs, a combination that would have been problematic for a trotter as the hind legs would have risked striking the front leg in full stride (known as firing). As a pacer, the risk of firing is non-existent as the front and hind legs on a given side move back and forth together. However, because of the crooked hock on his left hind, Dan Patch would initially "cross fire", meaning his left hind leg would sometimes hit his right fore. A special horseshoe was used on his left hind to stabilize the leg, resulting in a smooth, rhythmical stride.[4] The left leg would still sometimes "paddle" wide though, striking the wheel of the training cart. Wattles resolved this problem by designing a wider sulky.[8]


Messner was the owner of a dry goods store in Oxford and traveled extensively as a buyer of clothing and fabrics and other items for his growing business. During these trips, he frequently went to the harness races and probably made small bets with his friends. Despite his long-standing interest in the sport, Zelica was the first horse he ever owned.[1]

In 1902, Messner sold the horse to Manley E. Sturges of New York, for a record $20,000. In turn, Sturges sold Dan Patch later that year to Marion Willis Savage, a resident of Hamilton (later Savage) Minnesota, for the then unheard of price of $60,000 (equivalent to $1,660,000 in 2016). Savage was the owner of the International Stock Food Company, and used the horse to advertise the business. When not on exhibition, Dan Patch lived in Minnesota in an extravagant stable known as the "Taj Mahal" until his death on July 11, 1916.[6]

Racing career[edit]

Dan Patch made his first start as a four-year-old in 1900. At the time, harness races consisted of multiple heats – a horse had to win a majority of heats (two out of a possible three heats, or three out of five) to be declared the race winner.[7][a] During his career, Dan Patch never lost a race and lost only two heats.[9] The first of those two losses occurred in his second start against what was termed "real competition" at the Lafayette fair. In that heat, Dan Patch was last at the beginning of the homestretch and despite closing rapidly, lost by a nose. The other loss occurred in 1901 at Brighton Beach in a heat where it was determined by the judges that the driver was "not driving to win", much to the fury of the crowd.[7]

1900: Indiana county fairs[edit]

Wattles began training Dan Patch in earnest at a half-mile track in Templeton in 1899. Before his first start in August 1900, Dan Patch impressed Messner and Wattles with a timed mile of 2:14, a promising performance for an unprompted horse who did not seem to be working hard. On August 30, they entered him at the Boswell county fair with a purse of $250 against 2:35 horses, meaning their fastest official time was no better than the next level of 2:20. Attendance at the fair that day exceeded 8,000, boosted by a large contingent from Oxford who wanted to see the local favorite. Dan Patch did not disappoint, winning in three straight heats in times of 2:2412, 2:2414 and 2:2412. Wattles had not pushed the colt, wanting to be able to stay at the 2:35 level and perhaps to improve his odds in potential side bets in his upcoming races.[8]

With only five days of rest, Dan Patch made his next start at the Lafeyette Fair for a purse of $300. Although the race was still at the 2:35 level, the competition was much stiffer. With a field of nine horses, five or six horses started in the first tier while Dan Patch started in the second tier. Dan Patch was jostled and trapped at the back of the field until Wattles finally found racing room as they entered the homestretch. Dan Patch closed rapidly but just missed in a heat timed in 2:1812. Although some blamed Wattles for the loss (either due to inexperience or in an effort to drive up the odds), Wattles himself blamed it on a new harness. Regardless, Dan Patch proved his superiority by winning the next three heats, the fastest of which was completed in 2:16.[8]

On September 12, Dan Patch took the winner's share of another purse worth $300 at the fair in Crawfordsville in three straight heats in times of 2:1934, 2:2034 and 2:2012. The following week, the horse was asked for a little more effort in a $400 race at the Brazil fair. He responded with times of 2:1634, 2:1914 and 2:1714. Messner had hoped to end the year at the Terre Haute fair but heavy rains forced the cancellation of the race. Dan Patch ended the year with four wins and earnings of $625.[8]

1901: the Grand Circuit[edit]

Dan Patch in 1901 with Myron McHenry. Published in the New York Daily Tribune on October 16, 1901

In 1901, Messner decided to test Dan Patch against the best horses in the country on the Grand Circuit, a series of valuable races around the north-eastern United States. Accordingly, he hired Myron McHenry to be Dan Patch's new trainer and driver. Though McHenry was reputed to be difficult to work with, his ability with horses was such that he was called "America's greatest reinsman". On May 13, Dan Patch left Oxford on a train bound for Cleveland so that McHenry could try him out. In their first drive together, Dan Patch did not appear to be working hard but the stopwatch showed he had been moving fast. McHenry reportedly said to the horse, "You're either the world's biggest counterfeit, or you're the fastest horse in the world."[10]

McHenry worked with Dan Patch for two months before the start of the Grand Circuit season. Although Dan Patch had been trained well by Wattles, he still had some gaiting issues associated with his conformation. McHenry had the toe of Dan Patch's feet trimmed short while using a shoe that was raised in the back, a combination that some observers said made Dan Patch look like he was wearing high heels. Despite the odd appearance, the shoeing improved on the earlier changes made by Wattles to keep Dan Patch's hind legs from interfering with his front legs while reducing the wide action that led to him sometimes striking the wheels of the sulky.[10] Always a natural pacer who required no hobbles or special equipment to keep him on stride, Dan Patch soon attracted interest from observers of the training sessions.[11]

Dan Patch made his first start with McHenry at the racetrack in Windsor, Ontario on July 10 in a race for 2:15 level pacers. With a purse of $600, the race was meant to serve as a modest test for a horse whose official best time was 2:16. Dan Patch did not disappoint, winning in three straight heats, the fastest of which was completed in 2:0712.[11]

On July 17 in Detroit, Dan Patch made his first start on the Grand Circuit at the Grosse Pointe racetrack. Although he faced some steep competition, Dan Patch again won easily in straight heats. The Grand Circuit continued in Cleveland, Columbus and Buffalo with Dan Patch continuing to build his reputation with one win after the other. In the Buffalo race, McHenry took Dan Patch to the back of the field in one of the heats then unleashed him in the stretch. Dan Patch responded with a final quarter mile in a stunning 30 seconds. McHenry told reporters, "Dan Patch is the best pacer I've ever drawn a rein over."[11]

Dan Patch won twelve races 1901. He was supposed to finish the season at the Terre Haute meet but no one would enter against him. Instead, he returned home on November 2. Oxford held the first "Dan Patch Day" on November 14, in which the horse was led around town to the tune of the newly written Dan Patch Two Step.[7]

In 1902, Dan Patch was sold to Sturgis and raced three more times. In these wins, he was so dominant that subsequently either owners refused to race their horses against him or tracks were unwilling to allow betting. Sturgis's only alternative was to have Dan Patch compete in exhibition races. That year, Dan Patch equaled the world record of 1:5914, set by Star Pointer in 1897, before being sold in December to Savage.[7]

Savage was known for his advertising skills and soon capitalized on Dan Patch's growing fame. Rather than charging an exhibition fee, Savage received a proportion of the gate receipts for crowds that frequently numbered between 40 and 50 thousand. In his exhibition races, Dan Patch started behind galloping horses who were hooked up to a sulky that carried a canvas strip to act as a wind breaker. The pace makers would then swing wide, leaving Dan Patch alone against the clock. During 1903, he set multiple world records in a wide variety of race formats.[7] On October 27, 1903 in Memphis, he set two world records within 45 minutes of each other. In the first, he lowered the record for the half mile from 5712 seconds to 56 seconds flat. In the second, he lowered his own record for a mile pacing to wagon from 1:5914 (set earlier in the year at Lexington) to 1:5714.[12][13]

In Memphis, Tennessee in 1904, Dan Patch set the speed record for pacers by clocking 1:56 in a race.[14] However, his time improved and his official record of 1:55¼ for the pacing mile was set in 1905 in Lexington, Kentucky, with driver Harry Hershey.[9]

Dan Patch 1:55, from Breeder and Sportsman (1911)

His 1:55 unofficial record for the pacing mile was set in 1906 at the Minnesota State Fair but was not officially recognized because the use of a prompter with a windshield had recently been banned. 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 his International Stock Food Farm in Savage to the International 1:55 Stock Food Farm. Savage later used Dan Patch and his offspring in ads for the farm, with the 1:55 time clearly included. [15] 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 more than $1 million a year for his owner. He traveled around the country in a private railway car, and was billed as "kindhearted, generous, and a staunch Methodist who never performed on a Sunday."[7]

Crowds of 100,000 turned out for a glimpse of the horse. 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.


The tombstone memorial of Dan Patch in Oxford, Indiana.

Dan Patch retired undefeated in 1909 as the holder of nine world records, and spent much of his later life attending exhibitions.[7] He was also a moderately successful stud but never sired a horse close to his ability. He sired 38 trotters who met the 2m:30s standard with 1 breaking 2:10. He also sired 138 pacers, 5 of whom broke the 2:05 barrier. Dazzle Patch was his most successful son but died young and left only a few foals behind. Dan Patch's name is rare in modern pedigrees.[2]

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 learning about the death of his horse.

In 1953, Dan Patch was inducted in the new Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame.[9]


Banners commemorating Dan Patch on lampposts in Savage, Minnesota

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.

In 1997, the Dan Patch Society helped set up a Heritage Room in the Savage Public Library, which contains two display cases of Dan Patch memorabilia and extensive records.[16]

Today, the land in Savage formerly occupied by the "Taj Mahal" stables and racetracks is vacant, though the outline of a track is visible from the air,[17] near the intersection of State 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 named "Dan Patch Stadium".

Other portrayals[edit]

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.[18][19]

In addition, Dan Patch was the subject of the 1949 motion picture The Great Dan Patch starring Dennis O'Keefe and Gail Russell.

A Dan Patch Railway train, circa 1915.

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.[20]

Dan Patch Toastmasters, Club 1280 of Toastmasters International, was founded in 1954, and continues to meet on Wednesday evenings in Richfield, Minnesota.

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, No, 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!

The Disney movie So Dear to My Heart begins with Dan Patch's train pulling into a small town.[21][22]


Hambletonian 10, a founding sire of the Standardbred

In 1879, the harness racing community established "The Standard", which stated that a Standardbred was a horse who either: (a) could trot a mile in 2:30,[b] or (b) was the offspring of such a horse. Both Dan Patch's parents were Standardbreds but further back in his pedigree are a significant number of Morgan horses. Even further back can be found Thoroughbreds (most notably Messenger, the great-grandfather of Hambletonian) and a wide variety of harness horse breeds including the Narragansett Pacer, Canadian Pacer, Norfolk Trotter and Hackney.[24]

Dan Patch was from the first crop of Joe Patchen, one of the fastest pacers of his time. Joe Patchen's main rival was Star Pointer, the first Standardbred to break the two minute barrier.[24] Joe Patchen was a great-grandson of Standardbred foundation sire Hambletonian (known more fully as Hambletonian 10 or Rysdyk`s Hambletonian to distinguish him from the Thoroughbred of the same name). Hambletonian sired 40 trotters who met the Standard, with several going on to be influential sires.[25] His son George Wilkes raced for twelve years, winning 29 of 67 races. Known for his ill temper, he was initially greeted with indifference at stud but soon became one of the greatest sires of his age. One of his less distinguished sons was Patchen Wilkes, who barely met the Standard with a best time of 2:2914. Patchen Wilkes's only important offspring was Joe Patch, produced by the Morgan mare Josephine and was named Joe Patch after his parents. Though his breeding was suspect, Joe Patch was a great pacer with a career best of 2:0114. Other than Dan Patch, he was not a great success at stud.[2]

Dan Patch's dam Zelica was sired by Wilkesberry, also a grand-son of George Wilkes through one of his best sons, Young Jim. Wilkesberry was a talented horse who died young and left only a few foals. Zelica's dam Abdallah Belle descended from Alexander's Abdallah, a son of Hambletonian who also died young and left few survivors due to the Civil War. Zelica produced several foals after Dan Patch but they were fairly undistinguished.[2]

Pedigree of Dan Patch, bay horse, Standardbred, 1896[26]
Joe Patchen
Patchen Wilkes
George Wilkes Hambletonian 10
Dolly Spanker
Kitty Patchen Mambrino Patchen
Betty Brown
Josephine Young‡
Joe Young‡ Star of the West‡
Lady Gregory‡
Kate Moody‡ Morgan Henry‡

Young Jim George Wilkes
Lear Mare
Madam Adams American Clay
Lady Adams‡
Adballah Belle
Pacing Abdallah Alexander's Abdallah
Lydia Talbot
Fanny‡ Wells Yellow Jacket‡
not recorded

Morgan horse

Dan Patch is inbred 3x4 to George Wilkes, meaning George Wilkes appears once in the third generation of the pedigree and once in the fourth generation. Dan Patch is also inbred 4x5x5 to Hambletonian through his sons George Wilkes and Alexander's Abdallah.[26]


  1. ^ a b Smith, Sharon B. (2012). "Chapter 2: The Shopkeeper of Oxford, Indiana". The best there ever was : Dan Patch and the dawn of the American century. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ISBN 1616085851. 
  2. ^ a b c d McCarr, Ken (June 29, 1966). "From This Came a Champion" (PDF). danpatch.com (reprint from The Harness Horse). Retrieved January 5, 2017. 
  3. ^ "Hoosiers banned betting on horses despite Dan Patch". nwitimes.com. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d Smith, Sharon B. (2012). "Chapter 4: Messner's Folly". The best there ever was : Dan Patch and the dawn of the American century. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ISBN 1616085851. 
  5. ^ "Dan Patch - Bio". Harness Horse Racing News. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  6. ^ a b "Dan Patch - Bio". Dan Patch Historical Society. Retrieved January 5, 2017. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Waite, Gerald accessdate=January 5,2017. "Dan Patch". Indiana Historical Society. 
  8. ^ a b c d Smith, Sharon B. (2012). "Chapter 5: A Racehorse After All". The best there ever was : Dan Patch and the dawn of the American century. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ISBN 1616085851. 
  9. ^ a b c "DAN PATCH biography". Harness Museum. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  10. ^ a b Smith, Sharon B. (2012). "Chapter 6: On the Wings of the Wind". The best there ever was : Dan Patch and the dawn of the American century. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ISBN 1616085851. 
  11. ^ a b c Smith, Sharon B. (2012). "Chapter 7: A Star Is Born". The best there ever was : Dan Patch and the dawn of the American century. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ISBN 1616085851. 
  12. ^ "Dan Patch SMASHES 2 world records in 45 minutes" (PDF). danpatch.com (reprint from the Philadelphia Inquirer). October 28, 1903. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  13. ^ "Robinson Constitution - Google News Archive Search". news.google.com. Robinson Constitution. November 11, 1903. Retrieved January 8, 2017. 
  14. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2513&dat=19041027&id=oHFHAAAAIBAJ&sjid=W_4MAAAAIBAJ&pg=4187,4771901
  15. ^ https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=385&dat=19090201&id=PakaAAAAIBAJ&sjid=DTAEAAAAIBAJ&pg=2225,6660892
  16. ^ "Heritage Room (Museum)". Dan Patch Historical Society. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  17. ^ https://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&om=1&z=16&ll=44.784226,-93.343363&spn=0.009245,0.013497&t=h
  18. ^ Clymer, Floyd. Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925 (New York: Bonanza Books, 1950), p.158.
  19. ^ Dan Patch Historical Society Newsletter, Fall 2010
  20. ^ Dan Patch Historical Society Newsletter, Fall 2010
  21. ^ "So Dear to My Heart - 1948". www.thedisneyfilms.com. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  22. ^ Sampson, Wade. "So Dear to My Heart: The Secrets Behind the Film". Mouse Planet. Retrieved 5 January 2017. 
  23. ^ "The Standardbred - Horse breed, Horse breeding, types and breeds from Equiworld.". www.equi.net. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  24. ^ a b Smith, Sharon B. (2012). "Chapter 3: Mr. Messner's Buggy Horse". The best there ever was : Dan Patch and the dawn of the American century. New York, NY: Skyhorse Pub. ISBN 1616085851. 
  25. ^ "The Golden Age of the Trotting Horse | International Museum of the Horse". www.imh.org. Retrieved 9 January 2017. 
  26. ^ a b "Dan Patch Standardbred". www.allbreedpedigree.com. Retrieved 7 January 2017. 
  1. ^ The Little Brown Jug is a modern example of a multiple heat race.
  2. ^ The current standard is 2:20 for a two-year-old and 2:15 for a three-year-old.[23]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 44°47′03″N 93°20′36″W / 44.7842°N 93.3434°W / 44.7842; -93.3434