Longtime horse racing writer honored

Mike Hopkins, left, executive director of the Maryland Racing Commission, presents the 2013 Robert and Heighe Award for Excellence in Equestrian Journalism to J. William Boniface during a ceremony Thursday night at the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College. Boniface was accepting on behalf of his late father, William Boniface, a longtime hrose racing writer and editor for the Batimore Sunpapers. (KRISHANA DAVIS | THE AEGIS / The Aegis / October 25, 2013)

The Boniface family will be forever synonymous with the horse industry in Maryland.

The family farm, Bonita, located in Darlington, has bred, trained and raced thoroughbred horses at tracks in Maryland and across the country for decades.

But one of the best known members for the Boniface family isn't known for breeding and racing the quickest colts and fillies, although he did a little bit of both. For many, the late William Boniface is best known for writing about horses, the race track, the people around them and, of course, for handicapping the races.

A long-time equestrian journalist and handicapper for the Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Evening Sun, Mr, Boniface was posthumously awarded the 2013 Robert and Anne Heighe Award for Excellence in Equestrian journalism on Thursday evening. This is the second year the award has been given.


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Boniface's son, J. William Boniface, accepted the award on his father's behalf during a reception at the Hays-Heighe House at Harford Community College on ground where his father and grandfather often trod during its days as a major horse breeding and racing farm before it became the college.

Earlier in the week, the son talked a little about his father and the Bonifaces and their connection with horses..

"I think this is a great honor," said J. William, who was waiting for a Bonita Farm bred race horse, Wingo Star, to come out of the gate at Laurel Park racetrack, as we spoke Wednesday afternoon via phone. (Unfortunately the horse did not win.)

"I presented [the award] last year to Joseph Kelly and I think they picked the right pair in the beginning."

Kelly passed away just weeks after receiving the award last year.

Boniface and Kelly, who wrote for the Baltimore Sun and Washington Star, were close colleagues during the heyday of equestrian journalism. J. William said horse racing use to be a huge part of the Sun's coverage and his father was often sent as far as Florida to cover races when Maryland tracks weren't running..

William said while he was never much of a writer, his father's articles inspired his interest in horses.

"[My father] was very knowledgeable about what he wrote," J. William said. "He was an old school type of reporter. He never revealed a source, even when he was asked by me."

J. William said his father was well liked in the racing sport. He explained that the senior Boniface's likability was because "he never took a cheap shot at anybody; he reported the facts."

The award ceremony took place at the Hays-Heighe House, a former horse farm called Prospect Hill, now located in the center of the campus of Harford Community College. William Boniface once lived and worked at the farm as a teenager. His father, Fritz Boniface, was a manager of the farm.

Eventually Boniface headed to New York University with dreams of becoming a sports writer. After graduating he wrote for magazines including Horse and Horseman and The Maryland Horse.

Carol Allen, library director for Harford Community College, said there is not a more fitting person for the award than William Boniface. Allen said the award is given based on several factors: quality of writing, reputation of the journalist, longevity of the career and connection to Harford County.

"William Boniface raised horses and had been around them all his life," Allen said. "His passion for the sport really came through in his articles."

William Boniface worked for the Sun for about 45 years, moving through the ranks from ranks of copy editor to reporter to racing editor in 1982.

Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeding Association, said Mr. Boniface is a well deserved recipient for the award based on his contributions to the sport.

"Mr. Boniface was one of the great 'turf writers' when that was a really important job," Goodall explained in an e-mail. "[Five] generations of his family have been breeding and racing horses and they continue to carry the message of the importance of the industry. They have invested time and money—and lots of hard work in Maryland's horse business."

Boniface also wrote a book "Studs: A Novel," about horse racing in 1999.

According to the exhibit curators at the Hays-Heighe House, Mr. Boniface's first notable article at the Sun was a front page story of War Admiral's victory in the 1937 Preakness en route to the Triple Crown. Mr. Boniface went on to write a column, with the appropriate title "Bang Tales," which covered the horses and the people who owned, trained and rode them.

"For years Bill's column 'Bang Tales' and his handicapping prowess made him the dean of Maryland's horse racing community," Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board Ross Peddicord, a former Sun colleague, said in a statement.

"He and his wife, were larger-than-life characters who cut quite a swath through the centuries-old, sweeping narrative that makes up Maryland lore," Peddicord said.

Harford Community College President Dr. Dennis Golladay and Maryland Racing Commission Executive Director Michael Hopkins presented J. William with the award in front of members of the Boniface family, friends of the family and horse racing supporters in the area.

"William Boniface is so important because of his connection here to this house, to this farm and to this land," Golladay said during the ceremony. "I really enjoy walking around campus imagining when this campus was a farm."

State Sen. Barry Glassman also presented J. William with a resolution from the state of Maryland honoring his father for his long-standing journalism career and contributions to Maryland, especially to Harford County. William Boniface's grandson, William K. Boniface, is president of the Harford County Council.