Bill Boniface, center, receives the Humphrey S. Finney Award for lifetime achievement in thoroughbred racing from Frank Vespe, president of the Maryland Racing Media Association, on Monday at Laurel Park. Boniface's granddaughter, Sydney Boniface, to his right, attended with him.
Bill Boniface, center, receives the Humphrey S. Finney Award for lifetime achievement in thoroughbred racing from Frank Vespe, president of the Maryland Racing Media Association, on Monday at Laurel Park. Boniface's granddaughter, Sydney Boniface, to his right, attended with him. (Courtesy Jerry Dzierwinski)

Darlington horse breeder and trainer Bill Boniface has been honored with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the thoroughbred racing industry in Maryland.

“Bill Boniface was involved with thoroughbreds in the boom times, he stuck with it through the dark times, 2006 to 2013 and now that the industry is starting to come back, the Boniface family has added new stallions and is aiming to be part of that renaissance as well,” Frank Vespe, president of the Maryland Racing Media Association, which presented the award this week at Laurel Park.

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Boniface received the Humphrey S. Finney Award, who was a “force in horse racing in the 1900s,” Vespe said.

“Bill is someone who’s been important in racing, his family, dating back to his father, a racing writer for the Sun papers,” he said. “Bill bred and trained the most recent Maryland bred horse to win the Preakness and some of the best Maryland horses of the last several decades.”

Darlington horse breeder Bill Boniface, who bred '83 Preakness winner, is named a Harford Living Treasure

Harford County horse breeder J. William Boniface, who bred and raised 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony on his Creswell farm, was honored Tuesday night as a Harford Living Treasure.

Mike Pons, a local competitor who is also friend of the Boniface family, said Boniface is a worthy recipient of the Finney award.

“He’s an exceptional horseman and person. He’s one of those folks that’s just special,” said Pons, who is a partner with his brother, Josh, in Country Life Farm in Bel Air. “To be recognized for his service over his lifetime, it’s certainly well-deserved.”

Boniface bred and trained Deputed Testamony, the 1983 Preakness Stakes winner that is a member of the Maryland Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. Deputed Testamony, who retired in 1984, still holds the track record at Pimlico, Vespe said. After retiring from racing, “DT,” as the family called him, stood as a stallion at the Boniface’s Bonita Farm in Darlington for 19 years, siring a number of stakes-winning horses and many offspring that were successful racehorses in their own right.

Deputed Testamony died in 2012 and is buried at the family’s Darlington farm.

Boniface has bred other good horses and his family continues to stand stallions at Bonita Farm with Alliance, Dortmund and Kobe’s Back. He was past president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and was instrumental in starting the Maryland Million, Vespe said.

“You cannot tell the history of Maryland racing of the last 40 to 50 years without talking about Bill Boniface,” he said.

Bill Boniface, a longtime Maryland horseman who was the trainer for the last Maryland-bred winner of the Preakness, Deputed Testamony, was honored Monday with a lifetime achievement award.
Bill Boniface, a longtime Maryland horseman who was the trainer for the last Maryland-bred winner of the Preakness, Deputed Testamony, was honored Monday with a lifetime achievement award. (KIM HAIRSTON / Baltimore Sun file)

Boniface said he was honored to receive the award named after Finney.

“He was a great, great man who I admired and respected,” Boniface said. “So I appreciate getting it.”

The Boniface family has been involved in the horse racing and breeding business for 50 years, all of it in Harford County — 20 years in Bel Air and 30 in Darlington.

“It’s a very tough game, but a fair game,” Boniface said. “It’s one of the last prizes where someone can come in from nowhere and go to the top. That’s my appeal.”

No animal compares to a thoroughbred horse, it’s the greatest on the planet, he said.

“It gives you 110 percent 100 percent of the time,” Boniface said.

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Pons said Boniface is never afraid to “take a shot.”

He’s raced horses in races they weren’t expected to win, and he took risks when he moved his farm to Darlington and helped create the Maryland Million, Pons said.

“Everything he touched did very well,” he said. “The farm in Darlington, that was his fantasy and after they won Preakness, he was able to put it together and with the help of his family, was able to carry it out.”

The Maryland Million, a sires stakes program for the state, celebrated its 35th running last year.

“It’s probably the best state sired horse racing day. Now there are 27 copycats all over the country,” Pons said. “For Bill, Jim McKay and Chick Lange, it wasn’t just a dream. They carried it all the way to the finished product — a monumental feat.”

“He learned in this game, that on any particular day if you’re right and lucky, you can prevail,” Pons said. “The bar he set for all of us is formidable, but also fun. It makes the game fun.”

Boniface is also embracing the renaissance the horse racing and breeding industry is seeing, Pons said.

“The subsidy from slots has really given us a shot and we’re not sitting on our hands,” he said. “[Boniface] has done a terrific job and I know he’s going to ride hard to the finish.”

How long does Boniface say he’ll keep going?

“Probably until I die,” he said.

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