GRAND PRAIRIE -- Before Kentucky Derby winner I'll Have Another makes his bid for immortality in the 137th Preakness Stakes today, Lone Star Park will pay homage to the family largely responsible for making it the race it is today.
For four generations, the Lang family, including Lone Star Park racing director Bart Lang, has been synonymous with horse racing and the Preakness Stakes.
Lone Star Park officials will honor the Lang family today by naming the fourth race on its card the "The Chick Lang Turf Classic" with a scheduled post time of 2:56 p.m.
"I'm always excited for Preakness Day," Bart Lang said. "It brings back a lot of fond memories for me."
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Lang's grandfather, Charles "Chick" Lang, began his career as a groom at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, home of the Preakness. Over the next 27 years he would work his way through the ranks to become director of racing and ultimately vice president and general manager during what was truly the golden era of American thoroughbred racing.
Bart's great-great grandfather, John P. Mayberry, won the 1903 Kentucky Derby as the trainer of Judge Himes, and his great-grandfather, jockey Charles Lang, won the 1928 Kentucky Derby aboard Reigh Count.
Bart's father, Chickie, was a racetrack executive at Oaklawn and Retama, as well as a journalist.
Chick Lang died in 2010 at the age of 83. The Maryland Jockey Club renamed its Hirsch Jacobs Stakes the Chick Lang Stakes in his honor, and to be run on Preakness Day.
"My grandfather was a great guy, he did so much for the sport and I can only hope, if I'm lucky, to do half as much as he did," Bart said.
Known in racing circles as "Mr. Preakness" for his tireless promotion of the race, Chick Lang turned what was once the forgettable second leg of the Triple Crown into the middle jewel. His idea to open the infield to a busload of his daughter's classmates in the 1965 running of the race has evolved into what is now the region's largest and most anticipated event. The infield hosts live concerts and activities that have pushed the attendance past 100,000, more than triple the figure that Chick inherited when he took the job in 1960.
"We had all the normal holidays like Christmas and Easter, but Preakness week was considered a holiday too," Bart said. "I was allowed to take off from school for the entire week. It was considered an excused absence in our house. My father would let me work at the track all week and when he and my grandfather would get busy, my grandmother would slip me $20, and I would pour over the Daily Racing Form and try my hand at handicapping."
For a time, Bart found himself at the University of Delaware, where he was encouraged to explore the possibilities of life away from the track. But it was no use. Racing was in his blood, and the desire to follow in the footsteps of the Lang family tradition was too strong to deny.
"I started as a hot walker and exercise rider just like my grandfather did," Bart said. "I finally got a job at Arlington Park working in their dorm office and after a year or two I moved into the racing office as placing judge, eventually accepting positions at Hawthorne and Oaklawn and even Aqueduct for a while."
Chick was doing some consulting for the group that was involved with the early stages of Lone Star Park around that time.
"He thought Dallas was a great area and advised me to come down. I was in my mid-20s by then and thought I'd give it a try," said Bart, who lives in Cedar Hill with his wife, Kristine, and their two sons. "He was obviously right, because it's been 16 years and I'm still here."
Jared L. Christopher