Today Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another will attempt to etch his name in the annals of racing history by adding a Preakness Stakes win to his Kentucky Derby triumph. Known as "The People's Race", the second jewel of the Triple Crown has become the Derby's curtain call. Our very own Matt Gardner will even be there, no doubt somewhere in the infield negotiating the raucous sea of humanity trying to give us a first hand account of the regions biggest party, dubbed InfieldFest 2012.
But this wasn't always the case at Pimlico. In the late 50's the fabled track that had once staged the world's greatest match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, had become an afterthought. A speed bump on the way to the Belmont Stakes. In 1960 all of that changed. Enter, Charles "Chick" Lang, racing's first master promoter and soon-to-be General Manager of Pimlico Race Course. Chick was no stranger to horse racing. His grandfather, J.P. Mayberry trained 1903 Kentucky Derby winner Judge Himes and his father, Chick Lang Sr. won the 1928 Derby aboard Reigh Count. Racing was in his blood.
With the eve of the 2012 Preakness Stakes upon us, I sat down with Lone Star Park's Director of Racing Bart Lang, grandson of the legend.
JC: Your racing family tree goes back to the early 1900's, talk a little bit about how that came to be.
BL: It really goes all the way back to my great-great grandfather J.P. Mayberry who trained Judge Himes, a Kentucky Derby winner. My great-grandfather Chick Lang Sr. was a jockey and he also won the Derby. Then came my grandfather who started like most do in this business. He was a hot walker and a groom. He tried his hand at riding for awhile but he just wasn't very good. His father was the leading jockey in the country for a time, and here was my grandfather, and he self admittedly just wasn't very good (smiles). He dabbled in training which didn't last very long either. Not long after that he was working around the barn and a jockey asked him to help him get a mount and one thing led to another and there he was becoming a jock's agent, ultimately getting the great Bill Hartack's book.
JC: How did that transpire?
BL: Hartack's agent at the time had a couple of jockey's that were tough to deal with and couldn't decide which one to keep. He ended up keeping the other guy and my grandfather got Hartack and the rest is history as they say. Hartack was known to be high maintenance and my grandfather had to work extra hard to keep him out of trouble. There were many times he'd have to go back and talk to trainers and apologize just to keep a mount, but that's kind of where he started making a real name for himself. A few years later he got an offer at Pimlico to come work in the racing office.
JC: What kind of formal education did he have at this point, entering the business side of the sport?
BL: He got all his education on the backstretch. He always told me ‘I'm a Roads Scholar. I've been on the road a lot and that's all the education I need'. He took the job in 1960 and it only took him 9 years to make his way up the cooperate ladder to General Manager which was in 1969, the same year I was born.
JC: People in the racing community know your grandfather by his nickname "Mr. Preakness". What did he mean to the race during his time at Pimlico?
BL: At the time he took over, the Preakness was a little lost between the hoopla of the Derby and the Belmont. He did a number of things, namely opening the infield and creating the party that exist to this day. He took it from an event that had minimal attendance to a race that was knocking on the door of 100,000 people by the time he retired. Nowadays we do a lot of other things to get people out to the track from concerts to family days but he was ahead of his time in that regard. He was the first to really do any of that type of promotion.
JC: It had to be exciting growing up around such a dynamic personality. What was your relationship with him like?
BL: We had a great relationship. We spent a lot of time together when I was a boy. He lived on the water and he'd take me fishing and boating and of course being at the race track all the time, even before I could walk. There would be times that he would be very busy and my grandmother would give me 20 bucks and say ‘Here, have at it!' and I'd sit there and read the Racing Form and pick out my winners. It was a lot of fun being his grandson.
JC: Do you remember your first Preakness?
BL: The first memory of the Preakness I have is of Affirmed and Alydar. I was too young to go to the track that day but I was watching it on television. I do remember that my dad was a big Alydar fan that year.
JC: Your father inherited the nickname passed down by your grandfather and father before him. What did Chickie Lang contribute to the family racing legacy?
BL: He started out as a horse racing writer for the Sun paper's there in Baltimore doing their handicapping. He became a jock's agent for a while, most notably getting Julie Krone's book. I still remember when she shipped up from Florida and had nowhere to stay so Dad offered for her to stay with us for awhile until she got on her feet. So the great Julie Krone lived in our basement for a time! He moved into a managerial role at Pimlico for a while eventually moving on to the track down in Birmingham and then to Oak Lawn where he spent the majority of his career.
JC: So this is where you come in. Bart Lang, son of Chickie, grandson of Chick
BL: I took the same path as my grandfather. I started off as a hot walker, groom, exercise rider. From there I tried out college for a while at the University of Delaware. It wasn't really for me at the time, my heart wasn't in it. So I went back to work at the track and eventually took a job supervising the dorms on the back side at Arlington Park.
JC: How old were you at that point?
BL: I remember when I went to Chicago I was too young to drink (laughs) so I had to be around 20 when I took the job. Soon after that I moved into the racing office and worked in various roles. I moved from track to track, gaining a little more experience along the way, I worked at Hawthorne for a bit and Oaklawn and even Aqueduct for awhile. I ended up back at Arlington Park where I stayed until I took the job at Lone Star Park. My grandfather was consulting at the time and advised me to go West. He really liked the Dallas area and thought I would do well here. I was in my mid twenties at the time and figured I'd spend a few years in Texas before moving on to the next track but that was 16 years ago and I'm still here so he was obviously right. I met my wife here at the race track in 2004. I'll always remember it because it was the year we hosted the Breeder's Cup so '04 was a very big year for me.
JC: Did your grandfather ever discuss his favorite races he witnessed?
BL: One of my grandfather's first races was the match race between War Admiral and Seabiscuit. He had to sneak in because he was underage. But his favorite memory was obviously in '73 watching Secretariat win at his home track.
JC: If you could stage a match race against any two horses in the history of the sport who would they be?
BL: Well, for me the first choice would have to be Secretariat. He was, in my opinion, the greatest horse of all-time. Now for his competition, that's a tough one. For my grandfather's sake why don't we say Seabiscuit. That would be a very exciting race.
JC: Do you have a Preakness prediction?
BL: I'm rooting for I'll Have Another and it's strictly business because I want to see a Triple Crown on the line on Belmont Stakes day.
JC: Any future Lang horsemen in the saddle?
BL: I have two sons. The oldest is three, the youngest is one year old. My three year old is really into horse racing. He hasn't been out to the track very much but he's hooked on TVG. It's like it's in the blood. He'll be watching late at night and they'll have Standardbreds on and he'll say ‘I don't like those very much, I want to watch the other one's!' My wife brought home the Secretariat movie and he can't get enough of it.
JC: Lone Star Park is naming its 4th race on Saturday "The Chick Lang Turf Classic" in honor of the Lang family. What does that mean to you?
BL: It's a big honor. My father and grandfather have both passed so it will just be me there but I will have my wife and two boys with me representing the family. My grandfather was a special guy and he meant a lot to horse racing. It will be a good day. I hope I make him proud.