In the early 1990's, my golf foursome learned some interesting stories traveling throughout North Central Indiana.
How We Arrived At The Home Of Dan Patch
In the early 1990's I played a lot of golf. I was in a foursome and we got the American Lung Association Golf Card and the Indiana Golf Pass. They were both great deals. For $35 each, you could play numerous courses in the state of Indiana. The greens fee were free, you only had to rent a golf cart.
We took advantage of this by playing many courses in North Central Indiana. We probably played 30-40 courses a year between 1989-1994. We had a blast and have a lot of great stories about what we did, but we also learned a lot about the courses and cities that we visited.
On one of our outings in the early 1990's, we decided to played Oak Grove Country Club in Oxford, Indiana. Oxford, Indiana is a small town just west of Lafayette, Indiana. As we approached Oxford, we saw their water tower. In big bold letters it proudly displayed "Home of Dan Patch".
Our first thought was "Who was Dan Patch"? All four of us had lived in Indiana our entire lives and had never heard of Dan Patch.
When we arrived at the golf course there was a young girl working the cash register. We guessed that she was probably in High School. Since she lived there, we asked "Who is Dan Patch?" She didn't know, she didn't even know where we got that name. We had to tell her that it was on the water tower.
We Found Out Dan Patch Was A Race Horse
All four of us in our foursome worked at the same place so every Monday we would re-live our golf rounds. For some reason, my desk was the place to be on Monday morning. The other three guys in my foursome would gather around my desk and we would hold court before work. There were several people that enjoyed hearing our stories, one was the owner of the company that we worked for. We started talking about our game in Oxford and we mentioned that Dan Patch was on the water tower. We didn't know who Dan Patch was and the two or three people that we asked at the golf course didn't know either. The owner of our company piped up "I know who Dan Patch was! He was a race horse."
Every on of us in our foursome were kind of trivia buffs. In fact as we traveled on our various outing, we would try to stump each other with trivia questions. Now our curiousity was really peaked so we started researching Dan Patch.
Dan Patch, Undefeated
As we began researching Dan Patch, we became very impressed.
Dan Patch was born in Oxford, Indiana in 1896 and owned by Daniel Messner. Dan Patch was not used as a race horse until 1900. At the time, in harness racing, a horse would have to win a majority of heats to be declared the race winner. Usually it was 3 out of 5 heats. Dan Patch NEVER lost a race. He did lose tow heat races. His first heat loss was in his second race ever. His only other heat race loss was in a controversial race in 1901. Judges determined that the driver was driving "not to win".
Surprisingly in 1902, Dan Patch was sold to Manley Sturgis and relocated to New York. In December 1902 another surprising development, Dan Patch was sold to Marion Savage and relocated to Minnesota. This was a huge move for both Dan Patch and Marion Savage.
Dan Patch had become so dominant that other owners refused to race against him. This ended his competitive racing career. But he was still active and setting records.
Dan Patch In Action
Since other owners were not willing to race against him, the owners of Dan Patch had to find another way to make money. They had the greatest race horse of all-time and needed to take advantage of it. While Manley Sturges began running Dan Patch in exhibitions, it was Marion Savage who really took advantage of these appearances.
Dan Patch began showing up at State Fairs and running in front of as many as 30,000 fans. I know in today's world, that seems unbelievable but remember, this was the early 1900's. There were no TV's, no internet, no pro football or pro basketball and pro baseball had not been around very long.
What Savage would do would be to set up a performance by Dan Patch to try and set a speed record. As motivation for Dan Patch, another horse or two would run against him. This was more to pace him than to race him. Dan Patch set many records for the mile as well as for the 1/2 mile and 1 1/2 mile. His fastest mile was set in 1906 where he unofficially ran a 1:55 mile. His fastest official time was 1:55.25 set in 1905.
The Popular Dan Patch
Marion Savage made money from Dan Patch away from the race track. He hired him out for stud as many owners do for successful race horses.
He also allowed Dan Patch's image to be used in advertising. Dan Patch's image was used to sell smoking tobacco, cigar boxes, coffee, food for livestock, whiskey and post cards. He was as popular as Babe Ruth would be in the 1920's.
Marion Savage paid $60,000 for Dan Patch in 1902 but made much more off of him than that. Savage and Dan Patch also developed a special bond, in fact when Dan Patch died in 1916, Marion Savage only lived a few hours after that.
Dan Patch's official records for the mile
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Art West