Charles John “Chick” Lang, the former assistant racing director at Pimlico Race Course who was an industry legend for promoting and transforming the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), died March 18. He was 83.
According to his granddaughter, Elizabeth Berquist, Lang, who became known as “Mr. Preakness,” died of natural causes in a medical facility on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He had been hospitalized since Dec. 26.
The Maryland Jockey Club announced March 19 that it will rename the Hirsch Jacobs Stakes (gr. III) in honor of Lang. The race will be run Preakness Day, May 15.
Born into racing, Lang was the third of three generations known as “Chick” Lang. His father and great-grandfather were Kentucky Derby-winning jockeys, and his grandfather owned Thoroughbreds. Lang, who was born and raised right outside Pimlico, spent his childhood traveling from racetrack to racetrack with his father. At age 12 Lang watched the famed Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race in 1938 standing atop the roof of the jockeys’ room at Pimlico. That same year, he started his first official job on the track as a “gopher” for his uncle Jim Arthur.
Lang would go on to wear many hats in the Thoroughbred industry. In a brief but brilliant training career, Lang started runners in three races in 1947, resulting in two wins and a second. His next successful venture was as an agent for jockeys John Tammaro and Bill Hartack. After winning three Kentucky Derbys with Hartack, Lang took up a position at Pimlico in 1960, a move that would forever change the face of the track and the Preakness.
As the director of racing and later the vice president and general manager, Lang worked tirelessly to promote the Preakness until his retirement in 1987. When he started with Pimlico, the Preakness was largely overshadowed by the Derby and the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and as Lang himself once described, the race was dying. In his first grand scheme in 1961, Lang released 2,000 yellow and black balloons over the annual Kentucky Derby parade, and had “Next Stop Preakness at Pimlico” written across all of the Louisville buses traveling to Churchill Downs that day.
Lang eventually turned the Preakness into a week-long festival and was instrumental in having the Pimlico infield opened to fans on Preakness Day. He introduced the idea in 1965, bringing in a busload of his daughter's friends to the infield to watch the races.
In 2003, after 76 years at the races at Pimlico, Lang described Secretariat’s win in 1973 as his most memorable Preakness.
Upon leaving Pimlico in 1987, Lang dabbled in several other positions. He became the director of horsemen’s relations for Triple Crown Productions, then a consultant for Lone Star Park. Lang also worked as a racing analyst for WBAL radio, earning two Eclipse awards. Lang was honored with several other awards throughout his life, including a Certificate of Distinguished Citizenship of Maryland three times, the Special Award of Merit from the Maryland Jockey Club, the Humphrey S. Finney award from the Maryland Racing Media Association, and the Jockeys Agent Benevolent Association Man of the Year award.
Lang is survived by his wife of 63 years, Nancy Christman Lang, as well as his daughter Debi, six grandchildren and 12 great grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private. Lang's wishes were to be cremated and have his ashes spread at Pimlico in the Preakness winner's circle. A decision has not been finalized.
In lieu of flowers, please send donations to the WBAL Kids Campaign, 3800 Hooper Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, or the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund, PO Box 803, Elmhurst, Illinois, 60126.