When he was 12, Lang remembers standing on the roof of the jocks' room watching the Seabiscuit/War Admiral match race. "I can close my eyes and see that race like it was run yesterday," Lang said.
Lang also received his early education from trainer H. Guy Bedwell, also known as "Hard" Guy. "He was a tough s.o.b.," Lang said. "He had this police dog that he kept tied to a cable that ran down the shedrow. He was the meanest dog you ever saw. When I asked Mr. Bedwell what he fed him, he said, 'Gunpowder and Brillo pads.' "
Lang never made it as a rider. He was so bad people used to tell him, "I can't believe you're Chick Lang's son." When he fell off a pony one day in front of the grandstand in New York, his father told him he was never so embarrassed in his life. Lang turned to training, but that career lasted all of three races in 1947, two of which he won, with one second. He won with the first horse he ever saddled, Wiseshot, who romped by 81Ž2 lengths at Hialeah. But when two of his three horses were claimed, and the owner showed no desire in replacing them, Lang gave up training.
He is proud of the fact that in his career, he worked for, or was closely associated with, trainers Preston and Elliott Burch, Ben and Jimmy Jones, Max and Buddy Hirsch, and Hirsch and John Jacobs. His main job was stable agent, taking care of entries, scratches, and overweights, and basically being the contact between the racing office and the stable.
Lang's world was inhabited by characters named "Sweet Potatoes," "Mr. Squirrel," "Goofy Gerald," "Drop Cord," "Tenderfoot," "Jupiter Bill," and "Hard Times." After giving up training, he went back to work for Jim Arthur. One morning, jockey John Tammaro drove up to the barn while Lang was hotwalking a horse. He asked Lang if he would go to the racing office and name him on two mounts he had lined up. Lang had no clue what he was doing, and went to the clerk of scales, Eddie Dennison, and said he'd like to report Tammaro on two horses. When Dennison yelled out to all the jocks' agents that the following trainers need jockeys for open mounts, Lang just blurted out, "Tammaro is open." He returned to the barn and told Tammaro he had booked him on two other mounts. Both horses won and Lang's new career as a jockey's agent began.
At first, he took on a number of struggling riders. Another agent, Charlie Wells, had two riders, Oliver Cutshaw and a bug boy from West Virginia named Bill Hartack. Wells couldn't decide which rider to keep, so he flipped a coin. Whichever one he took, Lang would get the other. Wells wound up with Cutshaw, and Lang took over Hartack.
Hartack and Lang went on to win three Kentucky Derbys together in six years, with Iron Liege, Venetian Way, and Decidedly. When Hartack's attitude changed and his arrogance created problems with the media, Lang didn't want to deal with it any longer and resigned. He returned home to Maryland, where he was offered a job at Pimlico.
Lang took his new position to heights never before scaled. Besides his wife, Nancy, with whom he eloped 56 years ago when he was 19 and she was 16, the Preakness has been the love of his life. He became so passionate about the race, even Pimlico vice president Nathan Cohen once said, "Chick's enthusiasm can get downright sickening."
Lang's aggressive approach is understandable when you consider his idols were Gen. George Patton and Vince Lombardi, and two of his close friends were J. Edgar Hoover and vice president Spiro Agnew. Because of his persistence in opening the infield and enticing college kids to attend, the Preakness eventually became a week-long festival. He brought in bands, local celebrities, staged softball and lacrosse games, and created a carnival atmosphere, with picnics, cotton candy machines, and the crowning of Miss Preakness.
He regards Secretariat's Preakness as his most memorable. "That incredible move he made from last to first on the clubhouse turn was something no other horse had ever done in the history of the Preakness," Lang said. "Ron Turcotte looked like a kid hanging on to the back of a truck. I remember Lucien Laurin was a nervous wreck that day. He came into my office with a cigarette in his hand, then took out another one. I asked him if he was planning on smoking one left-handed and one right-handed. He said to me, 'I'm so uptight I don't know what I'm doing.' I told him to close the door and sit down. I took out a bottle of Crown Royal and gave him half a glass. After that he was fine."
When the Cohen brothers sold Pimlico to Frank De Francis and Bob and Tommy Manfuso in 1986, Lang knew his time remaining was short. He and De Francis had opposing views, and although De Francis tried everything to get Lang to stay, he resigned in 1987.
At Lang's retirement party, 1,200 people showed up at Towson University, including sports figures Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, and Howard Cosell.
Shortly after, he was named director of horsemen's relations for Triple Crown Productions, then as a consultant for Lone Star Park. He remains a recognizable figure at the Preakness, working for radio station WBAL as a racing analyst, for which he has won two Eclipse Awards.
Lang still looks back to the two great love affairs of his life with fond memories. He recalls how he and Nancy "didn't have two nickels to rub together" when they started out. "Nothing I accomplished in my life could I have done without Nancy," Lang said. "She's a remarkable woman.
My other lifetime love affair has been with the Preakness and the horses. You should enjoy the Triple Crown. Enjoy each race and never lose sight of the love of the horse. The horse is where it all begins."