Track photographer Pat Lang succumbs to cancer; captured many of horse racing’s historic moments

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By John Engelhardt
Special to the KyForward

Surrounded by his family and longtime friend John Engelhardt, Patrick Lang died peacefully on a late Nov. 17. After more than 30 years of making photos from the finish line, track photographer Pat Lang had hung up his camera three years ago.

Pat Lang as many horse racing fans remember him; with his camera, headed toward the finish line at Turfway Park (Provided photo)

For over three decades, Lang had devoted his career to capturing the winning moments of the horses, trainers, owners and jockeys at River Downs, (New) Latonia which became Turfway Park and Keeneland race courses in Ohio and Kentucky.

Over the course of his career, Lang captured historic, memorable moments of some of racing’s most talented horses; Silver Charm’s and Wild Rush’s Kentucky Cup Classic dead heat at Turfway Park; Spend A Buck’s 15-length Cradle Stakes win at River Downs preceding his Kentucky Derby triumph; Wise Dan’s maiden win at Turfway Park and graded wins at Keeneland before going on to back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Mile wins; Animal Kingdom’s maiden victory at Turfway Park and his romp in the Spiral Stakes before galloping into history with his Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup wins. … the list of notable horses that have run into Pat Lang’s frame and across the finish line over the years goes on and on.

Lang also photographed the beginnings, milestones and comebacks of many careers of racing’s most respected horsemen; jockey Rafael Bejarano’s humble beginnings at River Downs; jockey Julien Leparoux’s rise to fame at Turfway Park; the beginnings of trainer Ken McPeek’s career at River Downs; the start of trainer Dale Romans’ career at Turfway Park. He was on the finish line for the first wins of Alysheba and Rachael Alexandra.  Lang also documented jockey and local legend Perry Ouzts’ 5,000th, then 6,000th, career wins — placing him in a category that only 16 other men on Earth had ever achieved at the time.

“Through his craft, tens of thousands of great horses, trainers, jockeys and owners have been celebrated,” said Chip Bach, General Manager of Turfway Park. “On a personal level Pat has been a close friend to all of us and his smile and humor will be missed.”

Photographers John Engelhardt, Tony Leonard and Patrick Lang at the Jim Beam Stakes (Provided photo)

Apart from the famous horses and nationally recognized trainers and owners, Lang’s warmest memories were the many conversations he had with regular clients and fellow photographers over the years. Often stopping to talk while dropping by the office to pick up their pictures; to grab a handful of peanuts, a cookie, a sucker; or to duck in for some relief from the searing summer heat at River Downs, the brutal winter cold at Turfway Park or the pouring spring and fall rain at Keeneland between races.

“Pat’s door was always open to everyone, whether it be a family of backstretch workers or a Hall of Fame trainer, everyone was greeted with a warm smile and respect and welcomed to the variety of treats and sweets he kept in plentiful stock,” said Engelhardt, who worked alongside Lang at Keeneland and Turfway Park during the off-season at River Downs. “It was never really work when you were with Pat, more like being part of a comedy sitcom or a Fellini film. There were amazing colorful characters, constant action and laughter everywhere and Pat was the subtle circus ringmaster.”

Lang’s resume prior to his life in horse racing comes as a surprise, even to those who knew him well.

Lang, a New Mexico native, was born in Roswell and grew up in Hagerman. After attending New Mexico State University, he became a radio disc jockey in Las Cruces and was the co-owner of Flip Side Records, a chain of three record stores. Those who listened to his late-night progressive rock show would have known him, not as Pat Lang, but as Billy Pilgrim, a pseudonym lifted from a Kurt Vonnegut protagonist who traveled freely back and forth through time and space.

Lang did use his real name, however, for his second career as a radio journalist and news director for KOBE-AM in Las Cruces, as a TV correspondent for KOAT-TV in Albuquerque and as a reporter and cinematographer KTSM-TV and radio in El Paso, Texas.

Lang in his early days as a track photographer (Provided photo)

As someone whose career as a photojournalist involved documenting and reporting on people’s individual losses, from fires to accidents, Lang loved his transition to photographing horse racing at River Downs and Turfway Park (at the time Latonia) in 1982.

“Every day I got to photograph winners,” Lang said. “Being there for the wins and achievements, documenting people as they built on their success, for the milestones, even as they grew their families… In most cases, my clients became my friends. You rooted for them daily, on the track and off. It made for a happy career, where every day was better than the last.”

Patrick is survived by his beloved wife Karla of 32 years and his four children; son Jonathan Lang, daughter Emily Lang (Alex Ress), son Graham Lang, stepdaughter Rachel Hale (Michael), sister Barbara Lang-Gaulding (George), brother David Lang (Laura). He was preceded in death by his father Richard in 2001, his mother Rosezella in 2013 and his sister Delores in 2007.

Lang’s life will be celebrated at Hay Funeral Home, 7312 Beechmont Ave., 45230, on Saturday November 25. Visitation begins at 3 p.m. and a celebration of life service will follow at 4 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in honor of Pat to help defray the medical expenses incurred by his family for his care at YouCaring.

John Engelhardt was a longtime friend of Pat Lang.  Engelhardt was appointed executive director of the Ohio Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners in 2016 and was a longtime executive at River Downs and a consultant at Belterra Park.

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