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Home groan

The Baltimore Sun

His back is swayed like a Nike swoosh. His shaggy coat, a sign of age, would warm a woolly mammoth.

At 28 - ancient for horses - Deputed Testamony looks like he should live at Charlestown. The retirement community, not the racetrack.

Yet there he was, at 8 a.m., cavorting like a youngster in a grassy 2 1/2 -acre paddock at Bonita Farm in Darlington.

In a nearby paddock, another stallion ambled nearer. In a flash, Deputed Testamony crested his neck in defiance and gave the interloper the stink eye.

Hardly the spirit you'd expect of the oldest surviving Preakness winner.

"He's like an old man, with hair growing from his ears and nose, but he still kicks up his heels," said Kevin Boniface, trainer at the Harford County farm.

Twenty-five years ago, Deputed Testamony defeated the field on a sloppy track in an upset victory for the Maryland-bred colt. No homegrown thoroughbred has won the Preakness since.

If he's staying alive until he can pass the torch, Deputed Testamony might have to live forever, Maryland horsemen say.

Of the 132 Preakness champions, eight have been Maryland-breds, half of them coming in the 19th century. And these days, there are simply fewer potential Deputed Testamonys out there.

In the past 10 years, the state has produced 28 percent fewer foals as breeders take their business elsewhere. In 2006, the most recent year for which numbers are available, Maryland produced 852 thoroughbreds, down from 1,189 a decade earlier and less than half of the state's record foal crop of 2,075 in 1987.

Why the slide? Breeders have abandoned Maryland for states whose tracks have slots-enriched purses.

"Our place in the horse universe has dropped a peg or two," said Mike Pons, business manager of Country Life Farm and former president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

The exodus has taken its toll on places like Country Life Farm, the state's oldest thoroughbred breeding facility.

"In five years, we've lost 50 of our 75 mares to states with slots - Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York," Pons said. "And fewer home-breds means you get less at-bats to reach the Preakness."

Jeannine Edwards, an ESPN racing reporter who lives in Cecil County, echoes Pons' point.

"Breeders are responding to the financial dynamics of the sport in Maryland," Edwards said. "The better quality mares and stallions are going elsewhere."

Another reason for the lack of state-bred Preakness winners: Many of the Maryland horsemen who have remained are a realistic lot who often don't think big, observers say.

"The fact that a number of state breeders are targeting the middle market - the allowance or minor stakes level horses - means the odds of a Maryland-bred reaching a Triple Crown race is really not much higher than what history has produced," said David DiPietro, co-founder of the Maryland Stallion Station in Glyndon.

"I don't know that Marylanders really breed horses for the Triple Crown circuit," said Jim Steele, chairman of the Maryland Horse Industry Board. "We get intimidated. People here shy away from the Preakness thinking, 'That's for the big boys and we don't have a horse that's good enough' - though they might.

"I don't know that Marylanders have an inferiority complex, but the fact is we're more conservative than Kentucky. Trainers here won't put a horse in the Preakness just to say they did it."

Before he won the 1983 Preakness, you could have said just that about Deputed Testamony.

Of humble roots - his sire, Traffic Cop, stood at stud for a paltry $500 - "DT" was blue-collar to the bone. His dam, Proof Requested, won one race at Charles Town worth $1,797.

Foaled at Bonita Farm, the colt gave no early hint of greatness.

"As a yearling, he liked to have his back scratched after dinner," said J. William Boniface, general manager of the farm. "Otherwise, there was nothing special about him."

The horse began his racing career with a botched moniker. The word "Testimony" was misspelled and never corrected. His first three outings were claiming races; his early times, pedestrian.

"Somewhere along the way, DT's light bulb came on," said J. William Boniface, then his trainer.

When Deputed Testamony finally made it to the Preakness, his handlers couldn't give away the ride. Five jockeys turned down Boniface before 19-year-old Donnie Miller Jr., who was half deaf, climbed aboard.

Few thoroughbreds have run in the Preakness with such common connections. Pedigree, schmedigree. On May 21, on a sloppy track, Deputed Testamony - a 14-to-1 shot - won the race going away.

Early on, the horse stayed close, then surged past the leader, Desert Wine, at the top of the stretch, deliberately staying nearest the rail in the mud. Everyone else steered way clear of the rail, afraid of the poor footing there. But Miller, the leading rider at Pimlico, knew every inch of the track and how it played in the rain.

"If you stayed just a few feet off of the rail, you were fine," Miller said. "When it washed out, the track there was packed sand. It was like running on the beach when the waves come through."

Just before the race, Deputed Testamony was fitted with mud caulks - shoes with 1-inch cleats to keep him from slipping in the slop.

"A lot of trainers don't like changing shoes at the last minute," the elder Boniface said. "That day, DT was the only one who wore them, and it mattered."

Deputed Testamony crossed the wire 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Desert Wine.

"The blue-collar horse was a prince that day," Miller said. "Did he know he'd won? Absolutely. He carried his head a little higher, with his tail sticking up in pride. His eyes were big and bright, if you could see them through all of the mud."

The colt would never run better. He placed fifth in the Belmont Stakes, then won a couple of big stakes races. As a 4-year-old, on Preakness Day, Deputed Testamony returned to Pimlico and won the City of Baltimore Handicap. There, despite breaking a bone in his front foot during the race, he set a track record for 1 1/16 miles that still stands.

DT recovered but never ran again, finishing with 11 victories in 20 races and earnings of nearly $700,000.

Retired to stud, he proved an able sire: 64 percent of his 417 offspring won at least one race. That's nearly 20 percent higher than the national average. To date, Deputed Testamony's progeny have earned almost $18.4 million.

He left the breeding shed three years ago. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

"We didn't want him to have a heart attack," Boniface said.

When DT goes, he'll be buried alongside his parents, with headstone, near the farm's entrance. The plot is 50 feet from an old stone fence that marks the edge of the cemetery of Deer Creek Harmony Presbyterian Church. There, close by the Fergusons and Pfaffs and Woodburns, Deputed Testamony will rest in peace.

His epitaph? Boniface, who trained him, thought a moment.

"He was an honest horse who won 'that race' for Maryland."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

AT A GLANCE

What: 133rd Preakness, second leg of thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown

When: Tomorrow, 6:09 p.m. post time

Where: Pimlico Race Course

Distance: 1 3/16 miles

TV: Chs. 11, 4

2007 winner: Curlin

Purse: $1 million. First place: $650,000. Second place: $200,000. Third place: $100,000. Fourth place: $50,000.

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