BALTIMORE - Nobody loved the Preakness more or promoted it better than Charles "Chick" Lang. He was a Baltimore guy, a lifetime racetracker whose father, Chick Sr., rode the 1928 Kentucky Derby winner and whose great-grandfather, trainer John Mayberry, won the 1903 running. Chick Jr. was connected to three Derby wins as the jockey agent for Bill Hartack. Lang was 12 in November 1938 when he watched Pimlico's fabled match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral from the roof of the jockeys' room.
But his legacy is forever linked to the 3-year-old classic at Pimlico, where from 1960 to 1987 he served terms as vice president, general manager and director of racing. In 1965 he hired a school bus and packed it with his daughter's friends, who spent Preakness day in the infield, watching the races and lacrosse games. It caught on and inflated attendance.
The crew-cut, stocky Lang asked for his ashes to be scattered at Pimlico. He was 83 when he died of natural causes March 18 on Maryland's Eastern Shore. On April 24, Pimlico's opening day, there was a ceremony in the Preakness winner's circle, located in the infield. It was extremely windy, so Lang's remains were blown all over the place. "Mr. Preakness" would have been pleased about ending up near the finish line at his beloved Old Hilltop.
On the first Preakness day without him since his childhood, Pimlico renamed the Grade III Hirsch Jacobs Stakes the Chick Lang Stakes. Odds-on Comedero won by 33/4 lengths by leading all the way, another longtime Pimlico tradition.
Fun in the sun
The goings-on in the infield created controversy in recent years, with drunkenness and outrageous behavior rampant. The centerpiece of the lewd, crude rite of spring featured sprinting across the tops of portable toilets while beer cars, often full, flew. "The Running of the Urinals" became a viral video that since 2007 has gotten more than 330,000 hits on YouTube. It's not 1965 anymore.
Last year Pimlico banned bringing alcohol to the infield, which bashed business on its only major moneymaking day. The Preakness crowd of 77,850, the lowest since 1982, was down almost 35,000 from 2008. With infield admission prices at $50 in advance and $60 on race day, the debit might have surpassed $2 million. So this year, as part of the "Get Your Preak On" ad campaign, revelers paid $20 for a mug that allowed unlimited beer. The BYOB ban was still in effect, but admission was down to $40.
The party started at 8 a.m., not long before the supply of designated drivers began to dwindle. It was sunny and 70, definitely a good day to consume cold ones.
"It's a balancing act," said Tom Chukkas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, which runs Pimlico. "It allows for a party atmosphere but leaves us in control."
Perhaps, but the day's best bet was that some would lose their balance and get out of control. By midday, the infield was packed with people getting their Preak on.
Leparoux OK after spill
Julien Leparoux bruised his chest, broke a tooth and suffered sore muscles Friday in a two-horse spill in the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes. Kent Desormeaux also went down but was not hurt. Leparoux, last year's Eclipse Award winner, rode his eight scheduled mounts Saturday, including Pleasant Prince in the Preakness.
D. Wayne Lukas, 74, always has been a driven guy who lives to work. His disdain for sleep fueled a record-setting career, and the idea of him taking up fishing or golf is ridiculous. Like the cavalry of the Old West, he wants to die with his boots on. So when asked about retirement, Lukas' answer was bizarre but in character.
With a smile, he said, "I think I'll just ride that big horse over there, fall off, have them harrow me under and that will be it."