Robert Beveridge's Reviews > Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America

Crazy Good by Charles Leerhsen
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's review
Aug 08, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: cuy-co-pub-lib, finished
Read from March 30 to April 11, 2011

Charles Leerhsen, Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, America's Most Famous Racehorse (Simon and Schuster, 2008)

There have been a select few times in this country when millions more people than usual knew the name of a horse. Modern examples abound: Barbaro, Cigar, Ruffian, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, a dozen others. Dan Patch, on the other hand, was a national superstar in a much more difficult time. Television hadn't been invented yet, radio was still an expensive proposition for the average joe, and let's face it: while harness racing was a whole lot more popular at the turn of the twentieth century than it was at the turn of the twenty-first, it was still a relatively obscure sport practiced mainly at county fairs. If you've ever attended the harness racing at a county fair, and you know a few things about reading a racing program, you've probably noted that about half the horses you see aren't actually professional racers; they're local workhorses who have a little extra speed. I can't swear to it, but I'm willing to place a few two-dollar win tickets on the same thing being true a century ago, perhaps even to a greater extent. So it was with Dan Patch, who started his illustrious career pulling a wagon. Would that he had ended it that same way, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Sports Illustrated writer Leerhsen used to be a bigwig at Us (before it became the US Weekly we're familiar with today), which makes sense if you look at the way this book is written. Sure, he covers the sports angle. You can't write a book about a racehorse without covering the sports angle (or, anyway, god help you if you try). But he's as, if not more, interested in Dan Patch As Social Phenomenon—the second half of Patch's career, and his subsequent retirement, when he was owned by a corrupt, desperate business magnate who was doing his darnedest to turn the horse into a brand, an equine supermodel back in the days before such things existed. And I will certainly give Leerhsen that I didn't think I'd give two hoots about that part of the story, but I was just as absorbed by that as I was by his descriptions of Patch's races (not as good as Hillenbrand's in Seabiscuit, better than Mitchell's in Three Strides Before the Wire). That's saying something for a hardcore racing geek. And part of the reason for its rating is this. The other part is because there simply aren't enough books (and especially not GOOD books) on harness racing out there. This didn't inject the new life (however temporary it may have been) into harness racing that I was hoping it would when it came out, but there's still hope for that, isn't there? ****
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