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The Horse That Beat Dan Patch

April 2024
1min read


D. R. Martin’s “’The Most Wonderful Horse in the World’” (July/August) is a superb recap of the Dan Patch story. Harry Hersey, who drove Dan Patch to his world record 1:55¼ mile at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1905, was a gentleman right down to the wire. On September 28, 1938, only hours after Billy Direct broke that record by a quarter-second (also at Lexington), Vic Fleming, Billy’s driver, received a congratulatory telegram from Mr. Hersey.

Billy Direct’s epochal mile spelled the end of his racing days. As with Dan Patch, no competitors could be marshaled. But unlike Dan Patch, no lucrative exhibition career awaited Billy Direct. The United States had become motorized; people no longer identified with the horse.

The greatest pacer of his era, Billy Direct earned less than thirty-five thousand dollars in four years on the racetrack. My father, Daniel J. McConville, an Ogdensburg, New York, contractor and trucking-company owner, and Patrick J. Downey, a livestock dealer from Worcester, Massachusetts, paid four thousand dollars for the two-year-old Billy in 1936, a long price back then. Harness racing, along with the rest of the economy, hit a low ebb during the Depression. Night racing and pari-mutuel betting raised it to new heights after World War II.

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