Standardbred Champions: Dan Patch

Jim McVicker

January 15th, 2013

Dan Patch (April 29, 1896-July 11, 1916) was the top pacer of his day. Dan Patch broke 14 world speed records in the early 1900s, ultimately setting the world's record for the fastest mile by a harness horse (1:55) during a time trial in 1906, a record that stood unchallenged for 32 years.

Dan Patch was foaled on April 29,1896, in Oxford, Indiana and was named for his owner, Daniel Messner, and his sire, Joe Patchen.

Dan Patch displayed very little promise in his first year, but a local trainer named Johnny Wattles saw potential in the animal. Wattles began 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 Marion Willis Savage from Minnesota. Dan Patch lived in Minnesota from 1902 until his death on July 11, 1916.

Dan Patch lost only two heats in his whole career, and never lost a race. 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. Dan Patch’s speed was so great that other owners often refused to race their horses against him, leaving him to run against the clock.

Dan Patch's achievements made him a sports celebrity, with a multitude of product endorsements which included toys, cigars, 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 a $1 million a year.

Crowds of 100,000 would turn out to admire this champion.

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.