As the horse racing industry prepares for the 144th running of the Preakness Stakes this weekend, the prominent Harford County family who bred and trained the last Maryland-bred horse to win the middle leg of the Triple Crown is mourning the loss of one if its members.
Kim Michelle Boniface died Friday at the family’s Bonita Farm in Darlington. She was 51.
“She was incredibly hard-working, incredibly talented,” said Petra Kappel, a member of the gate crew for the Maryland Jockey Club who works at Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course. “She was just such a tough nut.”
Kappel met Boniface 27 years ago this month, when Kappel started working at Bonita Farm.
Though she worked there for only a year and a half, Kappel and Boniface remained friends, traveling in many of the same circles in the horse racing and breeding world, Kappel said.
A 1985 graduate of the John Carroll School, Boniface was an accomplished horsewoman, successful trainer and champion amateur jockey, according to her family.
At the family farm, Kim Boniface focused on training horses with her brother, Kevin Boniface, and sister-in-law, Chris Boniface, while Billy Boniface, Harford County government’s director of administration, is the breeding division manager.
Billy Boniface asked for privacy as the family honors their sister, daughter and aunt.
When Mike Pons, co-owner of Country Life Farm in Bel Air, thinks of Kim Boniface, he recalls a photograph from 1983, just after Deputed Testamony — or DT — won the Preakness.
“They’re standing on the track, waiting for him to come back. They’re jumping up and down, so excited. It’s a dream come true before their eyes,” Pons said. “You see it in that moment. That was just a special moment for the family and she was right in the middle of it, just as happy as she could be. That’s how I remember her.”
Kim Boniface was probably 14 or 15 years old then, taking a day off the farm to attend the race, watching, and hoping it would happen, Pons said.
“And it did,” he said. “It’s euphoria. In my mind’s eye, when I see Kim, I see that photo.”
It’s what everyone involved in Maryland racing and breeding aspires to, he said.
Boniface was from a different generation than Pons, but he knew her as a hard worker and he and her family, while competitors, are friends, he said.
She was involved in riding, training and “all the hard work it takes to keep a riding stable going,” Pons said.
Amy Hopkins Daney, who grew up across the street from the Boniface farm, said Kim Boniface loved her animals.
“Her horses always came first with her. No matter what, she was dedicated to her horses,” Daney said, calling Boniface a “beautiful soul.”
Her favorite horse, Daney said, was Field Cat, which Boniface trained a long time ago and still lives at the family farm.
“He has to be in his 20s,” she said.
Boniface also loved trimming weeds, Daney said.
“Whenever you’d see her on the farm, she was weed-eating,” she said.
Daney’s mother, Martha Hopkins, had a special bond with Kim Boniface, and when Martha was in Florida for the winter, Martha would have lunch with Boniface.
“They loved that,” Daney said.
Boniface was often dressed in barn clothes, she said, but when she would dress up, “she looked like a model.”
“She was beautiful, with gorgeous red hair and beautiful smile,” Daney said. “She was a really neat person.”
Kappel said Kim Boniface gave the impression of being aloof.
“The first 10 years I knew her, I didn’t think she knew my name,” she said. “She always called me Rider, as in exercise rider.”
When Boniface did call Kappel by her name, she was taken aback.
“I thought, ‘You don’t call me that,’ ” Kappel said.
The two would talk periodically, sometimes every couple weeks, sometimes six months. They last talked about a month ago, Kappel said, when Boniface called to ask a question about a truck. Kappel had a horse transportation business, and Boniface would call when she had a question about a trailer or shipping a horse.
Boniface worked on the farm on and off over the years and was back at the farm when she died, Kappel said.
“She was excellent at what she did,” Kappel said. “She was one of those people who had a rough and tough exterior but inside she was very sensitive and just a really good person with a really good heart.”
Nearly seven years ago, Benjamin Boniface, the 20-year-old son of Billy Boniface, who was then-Harford County Council president, died when his pickup crashed on the family’s farm in the early morning hours of June 18, 2012.
The family is planning a private celebration of Kim Boniface’s life. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that contributions be made to the Maryland Horse Industry Foundation in her honor. Cards and letters of sympathy can be sent to Bonita Farm, P.O. Box 366, Darlington, MD 21034.