"We love his pedigree," the younger Billy Boniface said of the horse who covered 35 mares last spring. "He doesn't have any turf in his pedigree, and we were looking for a horse to breed to our mares, who have a lot of turf. We needed to find a dirt background since 85 percent of races are on dirt."

Bonita and Darley, a Kentucky breeding farm, share revenues and expenditures, and the breeding operation went well enough this year that Etched will stay for at least another year.

"We have high hopes for him," the younger Billy Boniface said. "We'll see his first babies in the spring."

Family still recovering

When you drive on the private blacktopped road into Bonita Farm, surrounded by 235 acres of undulating pastures, grapevines are the first thing you see.

Maryland's horse industry is improving, and the Boniface family has gotten past the hard times, learning new things in the process. They've branched out, growing much of the hay their horses eat, as well as the grapes that greet you as you enter the property.

Their first grape crop came in 2009. This is the second year they've produced Chateau Bonita, a merlot that won a gold medal at this year's Maryland Governor's Cup Competition, the biggest event for winegrowers in the state.

"It gives our father something to do to stay out of our way," the younger Billy Boniface said jokingly about the budding vineyard. "Actually, my father really likes wine and like with everything he does, he educates himself and pays great attention to detail."

The growing vineyard is one of the activities John William, 70, uses to distract himself from the loss of his grandson, Benjamin. The 2010 John Carroll graduate was driving a 1994 Ford pickup when he crashed on the farm in the early morning hours of June 18. After he was found by a night watchman, according to the sheriff's office, Benjamin was pronounced dead at the scene shortly before 5 a.m.

The Boniface family said they have been strengthened by the outpouring of support they've received and by the many wonderful stories people have told them, revealing Benjamin's character.

"It's so wonderful to hear the nice things people say about him," the younger Billy Boniface, his father, said. "At the viewing, a young man who graduated with Ben from John Carroll, came up to me and said, 'You don't know me, but one of the things you may not know about Ben is that I had a tough time in school. I wasn't a cool kid, but Ben always treated me with kindness and went out of his way to make me feel included.' It was a wonderful thing to hear."

Death of Deputed Testamony

When Deputed Testamony died Sept. 18 — exactly three months after Benjamin's death — it was, in the Bonifaces' minds, another death in the family.

"I told people all week long when they asked, 'Why are you so upset about the horse?' that we never considered him a horse," the younger Billy Boniface said. "We considered him family. He was born May 7, on my 16th birthday. He'd been my responsibility and until the last weekend, he had no ailments, no surgeries.

"He was just as spry coming in at 32 as he was at half that age. But then, [recently], he got a little respiratory thing that knocked him back, and you could see his hind-end was getting weaker. He was walking slower. Finally, his heart gave out."

They have one broodmare daughter left that was sired by Deputed Testamony. Boniface smiles, remembering she, oddly, was also born on May 7.

"She's bred to Etched," he said. "I hope we get a colt — but we'll be happy with whatever we get."

It's life on the farm — a comforting, devoted routine that stretches through the seasons.

"When you are busy, you have to think about your work," the older Billy Boniface said. "And having so much to do here does help and having our family all around, one consoling the other helps.

"But I don't know that life will ever be the same."


Jim McKay Maryland Million Day 2012

When: Saturday

Post time: 12:35 p.m.

Where: Laurel Park

What: 11 races for Maryland-sired horses

More information: MarylandMillion.com

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