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Frank Deford
May 21, 1973
Chick Lang is in charge at Pimlico, where on Saturday the Preakness will be run, Johnny Unitas honored and a lacrosse game played
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May 21, 1973

Man In The Middle Jewel

Chick Lang is in charge at Pimlico, where on Saturday the Preakness will be run, Johnny Unitas honored and a lacrosse game played

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Lang loves (o twit the Derby. He has referred to it publicly as "The Preakness Prep." He has taken out advertising on Louisville buses and billboards for the Preakness, along with more unconventional ways to promote his race, using $10 play-money bills and fake mutuel tickets and spotlights. Once he and three friends blew up 5,000 balloons imprinted NEXT STOP PREAKNESS, then floated them out of their hotel window onto the Derby parade. Unbelievably, the management at Churchill Downs took some of these high jinks seriously a few years ago and fired off a letter of protest to Pimlico.

Still, Lang realizes exactly how important the Derby is to his race. His major effort in Louisville is to assure that the Derby winner and other contenders will ship to Baltimore. "Look," says Chick with a wink, "never forget that the Preakness has one thing that the Derby does not have. We have the Derby winner."

Spiro T. Agnew (Rep., Md.) and William Hartack (114): at different times in his life, Chick Lang has been remarkably close to these two disparate individuals. He retains ties to both, although the bonds are not as intimate as they were in the past.

Lang met Agnew at a golf club near their Baltimore County homes in 1962, at a time before Agnew held elective office above P.T.A. Lang was immediately taken by the man, and in 1966, when Agnew ran for governor, he took a leave of absence from Pimlico to become Agnew's personal aide. For three months of campaigning all over the state, Lang was the one person who was with "The Man"—as he usually calls him—every waking moment of every day.

Presumably, if there is anyone who knows Spiro Agnew, it is Lang. His assessment: "I've never met a person in my life who I am so fond of and respect so much as the Vice-President. The Man has the greatest command of the English language of anyone who has ever lived. Now, I want to make sure you get that right the way I said that: not just any living person, but anyone who has ever lived."

And Agnew on Lang? The Vice-President brings his fingertips together and, peering over the elephant figurines that guard the fountain pens on his desk, he smiles:

"Chick has unusual skills, great political quality, really. He bears much resemblance, it seems, to what I've heard of Jim Farley. He was extremely valuable to me, and I could have used him in a staff position, but he needs a less structured existence.

"He could always soothe people who were irritated, and manage that while exercising total good sense. He is unflappable and considerate, and he could always see the humor in things. Ultimately, the thing I remember most about Chick is that he possesses such a deep understanding of how people feel."

Lang's association with Hartack reaches back much farther, to the fall of 1953 when Chick was a jockey's agent and more or less by chance wound up with the riding book of a youngster who had come down from West Virginia. Lang's contacts won the handsome Hartack a few key mounts, and Hartack took full advantage of the opportunity, moving right to the top. "When we first met, Billy was quiet, an introvert, but he was smart," Lang recalls, "and in the hole he had guts and determination and a belief in himself. Nobody ever rode a man's beast like Billy Hartack." He was soon the nation's leading rider, and he and Lang were off. In 1957 Lang's 20% of Hartack came to better than $50,000. On his right pinky Chick still sports the large horseshoe diamond ring that his jockey gave him when they won the riding title the first time. "He became my other son—people still call him that. And it is true. I love Billy like a son. Oh, the nice things he did for me. He would take my kids and pile them into his big car and go off to a toy store and buy them $60, $70 worth of toys, whatever they wanted—he didn't have many toys when he was a boy—and then all the ice cream and candy they wanted. Chickie adored him. When he went to work for the Sun, I know he was only worried about what Billy would think about that, him becoming a writer. And my daughter. They asked Deborah what she wanted to be when she grew up, and all she said was that she wanted to grow up so she could marry Billy Hartack."

But Hartack had another side to him, too, and as the seasons went by it began to catch up with him. He was often hard to get along with, prideful, defensive, arrogant with friends and the owners on whom he ultimately depended. "You have to say that he destroyed himself," says Chick. "He didn't have to be so critical, to treat everyone the way he did. I pleaded with him many times." The big rides came less frequently and there was little left but rancor and controversy. "In many ways," Lang insists, "we are closer now than ever. He always leaves Oaklawn and comes in here to ride when Pimlico opens. He called me the other day and asked me to get him an agent.

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