". . . a wry, moving account of America's first epidemic of sports fever." —Entertainment Weekly
Who was the most famous athlete one hundred years ago? A horse. In fact, harness racer Dan Patch was more than a celebrity, he was once the most recognizable figure in American sports.
Born with a bad leg and nearly euthanized in 1896, Dan Patch led an ordinary wagon horse existence, pulling the grocer’s cart in Oxford, Indiana. It was when he won a race at the Indiana State Fair that Dan Patch’s fame began to build.
At the time, harness racing was America’s favorite sport and as Dan Patch began beating world records and achieving unheard-of times, he caught the attention of not only fans, but corporations. In fact, this magnificent animal became the first celebrity sports endorser of everything from razors and cigars to breakfast cereal and washing machines.
Listen to this fascinating true story of the first massive sports star in America, and hear how a horse became a household name, delighting and uplifting an entire country.
“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. . . . Thanks to Leerhsen, Dan Patch returns for another good run.” —Deirdre Donahue, USA Today
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It is difficult for the contemporary mind to fathom that there was a time when harness racing—trotters and pacers—was king in America. Yet from about 1885 to about 1915, an era when the horse and buggy were the most common form of transportation, harness racing was more popular than Thoroughbred racing, baseball, and boxing, hands down. And in the middle of that era, the undefeated pacer Dan Patch was the king of harness racing. After he ran out of equine competition, he paced against the clock, setting and repeatedly lowering track, state, and world records while drawing crowds up to 117,000 and pocketing appearance fees of up to $21,500. His most lucrative activity, netting up to $1 million a year at a time when the dollar was worth 20 times its current value, was “endorsing” scores of products ranging from tobacco tins to washing machines. Leerhsen tells the story of Dan Patch and his connections—the series of scoundrels and self-promoters who served as his owners and drivers—with humor and a fine sense of detail. The author no doubt owes a debt to Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit, which created both the mold and the audience for a certain kind of exhaustively researched book about a horse and his people; but that doesn’t make his work any less fascinating.
Booklist *Starred Review*