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.
“It’s tremendous what you’ve brought to our county,” Councilman Chad Shrodes told Boniface as he presented him with a proclamation during the Harford County Council meeting. “You really carved out a spot in Harford County history and I can’t think of a more deserving person than yourself as a Harford Living Treasure.”
Boniface, 75, along with the late Chick Lang of Pimlico Race Course and the late ABC sports announcer Jim McKay created the Maryland Million, a series of races that has helped to encourage the breeding and racing of thoroughbred horses in Maryland, according to the proclamation read by Councilman James McMahan, who grew up down the street from Boniface in Bel Air. This year’s Jim McKay Maryland Million Day will be run at Laurel Park on Saturday, Oct. 20.
“Bill Boniface and his family continue to breed, stable, foal and train for the thoroughbred industry in Maryland,” the County Council proclamation states.
Boniface and his wife, Joan, raised five children, each of whom has worked in the family business, according to the nomination as a Harford Living Treasure, submitted by Joe Swisher of Aberdeen. One of their sons is Billy Boniface, the Harford County director of administration and former eight-year president of the County Council.
“I cannot begin to tell you all he and his wife and family have contributed to Maryland horse racing,” Swisher, an avid Harford County historian, wrote. “In my mind, he is a living Harford County treasure.”
In accepting the proclamation, Boniface recalled the history of thoroughbred racing in America, and how each horse can trace its roots back to one of three in England.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, Boniface’s grandfather, Fritz Boniface, ran the farm where Harford Community College is now and imported a horse from England, Lord Dunbar, which stood at stud at Mrs. Anne Heighe’s Prospect Hill farm.
“Mrs. Heighe was one of the leading breeders in Maryland and brought a lot of pride to Harford County,” Boniface said.
Five years ago, Boniface buried Deputed Testamony, and “believe it or not, we still have people come from around the country who visit the farm, look at the stallions, and they want to see his grave,” he said. “He was a great horse, a blue collar horse that did more than anybody thought he would have done and he brought a lot of credibility to me and my family and he’s still well-remembered.”
Boniface never graduated high school, he said. He dropped out at 15 to help on the farm.
“Anything I accomplished was trial and error. Well, there were a lot of errors,” Boniface said. “And through all those years, my wife of 50-something years, she stuck with me and she made sure there was food on the table and the kids went to school and had clothes on their back, and she probably should be getting this award.”
McMahan told of how he and Boniface and a few others used to crawl up and down through storm sewers.
“We made it and we’re better for it,” McMahan said.
The two fell out of touch for a while, until Billy Boniface was elected Harford County Council president about a dozen years ago, McMahan said.
McMahan went up to Bonita Farm and “by golly, there was my old friend up a the farm,” he said.
The two reconnected and Boniface often had McMahan help him on the farm, especially after McMahan called his Christmas trees “scraggly,” he said. In more recent years, McMahan brought his grandson, Jack, up to the farm to visit and help out.
“This man I have enjoyed recontacting, he and I on the farm,” McMahan said. “He’d call and tell me ‘get up here, I need help on the farm.’ I loved it, and it was where I needed to be.”
Boniface called him one Christmas Eve, just to thank him for all his help on the farm, especially with the trees.
“And I just want to tell you to tell Jack to have a merry Christmas,” McMahan recalled Boniface saying. “That meant so much. Thank you, my friend, our friendship will last forever.”