My new friend Thelma Glaspie almost
wanted to throttle me when she realized I didn't know who Dan Patch was. I had seen the "Dan Patch Cafe" in Oxford, Indiana, as I drove through that community on my way to the Glaspie's place a little farther south. That was on my first visit to Benton County, Indiana, in June, 2003. I had wondered outloud who Dan Patch was, that they'd name a cafe after him.
I am ignorant no longer. Dan Patch was a horse. He set a sulky racing record at the Minnesota State Fair in 1906, finishing the mile in 1 min. 55 secs. flat. The record stood unchallenged for thirty-two years, when "Billy Direct" tied it in 1938.
Dan Patch was born in 1896 at Oxford, Indiana, in Benton County, from the sire Joe Patchen and the dam Zelica. He was first owned by Dan Messner, Jr. The barn in which Dan Patch was born still stands at Oxford, still owned by the Messner family.
Dan Patch's first race was August 30, 1900, driven by John Wattles. His best time that season was 2:16. By the end of racing in 1901, he had reduced his time for the mile to 2:04.5 In the spring of 1902, Dan Patch was sold to M.E. Sturgis of Buffalo, New York, for $20,000. On August 2, 1902, Dan Patch stopped racing other horses and started running only against the stopwatch; other horse owners got tired of losing to Dan Patch and wouldn't enter their sulkies to race against him. The rest of his life, he ran against the stopwatch rather than against equine competition.
In the fall of 1902, M.W. Savage of Minneapolis paid $60,000 for Dan Patch. Thereafter the horse and its running prowess were used to help market Savage's "International Stock Food" products. That day in 1906, ninety thousand people were on hand at the Minnesota State Fair to see the king of sulky racing set his best time, 1:55. I believe Harry C. Hersey was driving the sulky that day.
Dan Patch pulled a tendon running in Los Angeles in 1909 and was put to retirement in the fall of that year. He died at the International Stock Food Farm in Savage, Minnesota, in July, 1916. His owner, M.W. Savage, died just thirty-two hours later.
Mr. Savage had intended that Dan Patch be stuffed, and the dead horse had been sent to the taxidermist. When Savage died, the family retrieved Dan Patch and, instead of having him mounted for display, had him buried secretly someplace on the farm. Exactly where I don't know, because it's still a secret; but I do know someone who knows someone who does.