BALTIMORE– One of the most soggy and damp days in the history of the Preakness Stakes turned into one of the brightest and most glorious for a Harford County Catholic family and a 19-year-old Maryland jockey.
The Preakness is the second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown Series, sandwiched between the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes in Elmont, New York, and takes place on the third Saturday of each May at Pimlico Race Course in Northwest Baltimore.
Forty years ago, long-shot Deputed Testamony helped put the Boniface family and their Darlington farm on the thoroughbred racing and breeding map. Deputed Testamony is the last of eight Maryland-breds to win the Preakness Stakes and is one of only 11 colts from the state to win a Triple Crown race.
Trained by J. William “Bill” Boniface and owned by the Boniface family and Francis P. Sears, Deputed Testamony skipped the Kentucky Derby and then upset Derby-winning Sunny’s Halo at Pimlico Race Course May 21, 1983.
“It was a big deal,” said Boniface, 80, a parishioner of St. Ignatius Parish in Hickory and former altar server at St. Margaret Parish in Bel Air. “It gave our farm and breeding operation national recognition and somewhat international recognition.
“When you think about it, it’s kind of astronomical odds,” said Boniface, who attended Towson Catholic High School before leaving to join the horse business full time at age 15. “To be the one to win the Preakness out of about 30,000 foals nationally is incredible.”
Deputed Testamony finished his four-year racing career with 11 victories and three second-place finishes in 20 starts. He earned $674,329 in purses and set a track record for the 11/16 distance at Pimlico that still stands. He lived until 2012 to age 32 at Bonita Farm.
Syndicated to stud for 40 shares at $5.2 million, Deputed Testamony helped the Boniface family’s racing business take off as a full-service thoroughbred farm for breeding and training.
“We plowed all the money back into the farm,” Bill Boniface told the Catholic Review, news outlet of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
According to Bonita Farm’s history, Baltimore Evening Sun racing editor William Boniface and his wife, Mary Louise, built a home on a 40-acre farm outside of Bel Air. In the late 1970s and early 1980s William’s son, J. William (Bill), along with his wife, Joan, and five children, expanded the horse operation to more than 200 acres. After their Preakness victory, the Bonifaces sold the Bel Air property and moved to the 400-acre Bonita Farm in Darlington.
The 1983 Preakness victory was a fortuitous one in the career of a teenage jockey as well.
Donald Miller Jr., a high school student from Jessup, rode Deputed Testamony to the historic victory in the Triple Crown Series. Miller, now a real estate executive and a member of St. Mark Parish in Catonsville, said the victory put him on the map nationally.
“It wasn’t until years later that it dawned on me how big an impact that victory had,” said Miller, who served on the St. Mark parish council for several years. “It didn’t change much for me locally, but I was really surprised by the recognition I received around the country. That name recognition helped me get mounts in other states.”
Miller said his local knowledge played an important role in the victory since he knew after a hard rain that the inside path was the best spot at Pimlico.
Miller, now 60, started riding for his father, Donald Sr., a trainer, at age 17. He compiled 2,856 career victories and earned more than $37 million in purse winnings.
Miller, who retired from riding in 1996 due in part to hearing problems, said it was especially gratifying to win for the Boniface family.
“No one works harder than the Boniface family, and Bill was an eternal optimist so it was great to be a part of it,” he said.
Bill Boniface agreed with Miller that it was an incredible opportunity.
“It was the chance of a lifetime in a lifetime of chance,” said Boniface, who said he served in every role in the business from exercise rider to jockey and trainer.
He now serves as Bonita Farm’s general manager. His sons, Billy, Kevin and John, and daughter, Bonita, all are involved with the hands-on duties of the farm, directing breeding, foaling and racing operations.
Bill and his wife, Joan, were married at Immaculate Conception Church in Towson and sent all five of their children (daughter, Kim, died in 2020) to Catholic schools, including St. Margaret elementary school and John Carroll high school in Bel Air.
Bill Boniface, who plans to watch the May 20 Preakness at home, said the family’s Catholic faith has always played a role in their business.
“We were all raised Catholic and still are faithful Catholics,” Bill Boniface said. “It shaped our character and imparted a sense of value that we use in our business.”
Bill Boniface said his father taught him at an early age about faith and horse racing.
“Never pray for a horse to win,” Bill Boniface said.