Synopses & Reviews
A hundred years ago, the most famous athlete in America was a horse. But Dan Patch was more than a sports star; he was a cultural icon in the days before the automobile. Born crippled and unable to stand, he was nearly euthanized. For a while, he pulled the grocer's wagon in his hometown of Oxford, Indiana. But when he was entered in a race at the county fair, he won -- and he kept on winning. Harness racing was the top sport in America at the time, and Dan, a pacer, set the world record for the mile. He eventually lowered the mark by four seconds, an unheard-of achievement that would not be surpassed for decades.
America loved Dan Patch, who, though kind and gentle, seemed to understand that he was a superstar: he acknowledged applause from the grandstands with a nod or two of his majestic head and stopped as if to pose when he saw a camera. He became the first celebrity sports endorser; his name appeared on breakfast cereals, washing machines, cigars, razors, and sleds. At a time when the highest-paid baseball player, Ty Cobb, was making $12,000 a year, Dan Patch was earning over a million dollars.
But even then horse racing attracted hustlers, cheats, and touts. Drivers and owners bet heavily on races, which were often fixed; horses were drugged with whiskey or cocaine, or switched off with "ringers." Although Dan never lost a race, some of his races were rigged so that large sums of money could change hands. Dan's original owner was intimidated into selling him, and America's favorite horse spent the second half of his career touring the country in a plush private railroad car and putting on speed shows for crowds that sometimes exceeded 100,000 people. But the automobile cooled America's romance with the horse, and by the time he died in 1916, Dan was all but forgotten. His last owner, a Minnesota entrepreneur gone bankrupt, buried him in an unmarked grave. His achievements have faded, but throughout the years, a faithful few kept alive the legend of Dan Patch, and in Crazy Good, Charles Leerhsen travels through their world to bring back to life this fascinating story of triumph and treachery in small-town America and big-city racetracks.
"Mr. Leerhsen's thoroughly entertaining history betrays no trace of the sentimentality that so often adheres to tales of bygone sports heroes...[Crazy Good] has the moments of sweetness and triumph that only a sports story can provide. Not least among the triumphs is the fact that, with Mr. Leerhsen's help, Dan Patch at long last has been given his due." -- Wall Street Journal
"One of the many satisfactions of Crazy Good is that it goes farther than Seabiscuit -- Laura Hillenbrand's popular resurrection of another unlikely superstar -- in explaining how a horse could be so feted, then forgotten...With wit and a winking charm, Leerhsen, an executive editor at Sports Illustrated, makes sure this handsome brown stallion resonates...From start to finish, this book has legs." -- Newsweek
"Leerhsen vividly recounts Dan-mania and digs up dirt on the colorful gamblers and shady horse handlers of the 1900s. In rescuing Dan from the mists of history, he also draws a wry, moving account of America's first epidemic of sports fever." -- Entertainment Weekly
"It's a terrific look at a legendary if now forgotten equine superstar named Dan Patch. Leerhsen does for early 20th-century American harness racing what Laura Hillenbrand's Seabiscuit did for Depression-era Thoroughbred racing." -- USA Today
Now in paperback, the book that Newsweek calls “wonderful, witty, and wise,” vividly recounts a time 100 years ago when a racehorse thrilled America and became a legend.
• A great underdog story: Born with a bad leg and nearly destroyed at birth in 1896, Dan Patch became the greatest champion racehorse of his day, lowering the record for the mile by four seconds, an astounding achievement that stood for decades. Put to work pulling a wagon, he was entered in a race as a lark, but won it—and never lost throughout his long career.
• A bygone American era: Crazy Good is the story of America in simpler times, when the automobile was a novelty and most people preferred horses; an era when horse racing— pacers and trotters—was a dominant sport of the day.
• Colorful writing, colorful characters: Leerhsen populates his story with great characters, from the entrepreneur owner who made Dan Patch into a household name, to the alcoholic gambler who drove the horse to his greatest victories.
About the Author
Charles Leerhsen is a former executive editor at Sports Illustrated. He has written for Rolling Stone, Esquire and The New York Times. His books include Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America and Blood and Smoke: A True Tale of Mystery, Mayhem, and the Birth of the Indy 500. He is the winner of the SABR Baseball Research Award. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the writer Sarah Saffian.Visit him at CharlesLeerhsen.com.