04/10/2008 11:00PM

It's a silver anniversary for Deputed Testamony

Email

A shaggy old bay horse hangs his head over a fence at Bonita Farm in Darlington, Md., some 30 miles north of Baltimore, and snorts at another spring.

This is Deputed Testamony, who won the Preakness 25 years ago.

"It's rewarding to see he's still as healthy as he is," said the man who trained him, J. William Boniface, as the horse looked out over the 400-acre showplace Thoroughbred farm that his racing and stud career helped create.

The opening of this year's Pimlico meet on Thursday marks the approach of a special anniversary for many Marylanders who watched in awe back in 1983 as Deputed Testamony surged through the slop under Donnie Miller Jr. to win by 2o3/4 lengths in the Preakness.

It was a heartwarming victory on so many levels, by a colt whose 14-1 odds (as part of an entry with his stablemate Parfaitement) only hint at the rags-to-riches elements of the story.

The oldest living Preakness winner, Deputed Testamony is a homegrown product of one of Maryland's oldest families of horsemen - the Bonifaces, who trace their modern-day lineage back to the late Baltimore Sunpapers racing editor Bill Boniface.

Boniface's newspaper salary paid the mortgage on a modest home across the road from Timonium racetrack. When the home was sold in the early 1960s as a site for a gas station, it provided seed money for a farm in Bel Air, Md.

Boniface's son J. William - also known as Bill - fresh from a stint in the Marine Corps, soon took over operation of the farm with his wife, Joan. The farm was named Bonita, after "the fastest fish in the sea," Boniface said.

The younger Bill quickly built up a clientele as a public trainer, but just as rapidly grew frustrated with the required traveling. He and Joan would have five children within a span of slightly more than seven years.

To keep family and work together, they developed a centralized operation - training horses exclusively on the farm while also standing stallions and boarding horses for outside clients. Years of hard work had brought noteworthy success by the time Deputed Testamony was born in 1980. But - bungled spelling aside - Deputed Testamony (nicknamed D.T.) was the first to write his name in giant letters.

Deputed Testamony came along in the first crop of foals conceived at Bonita from the mostly forgettable stallion Traffic Cop (Traffic Judge-Flight Bird, by Count Fleet), whom Boniface had purchased when Spendthrift Farm culled him from its ranks the year before. D.T.'s dam, Proof Requested (by Prove It), was a low-level claimer who retired with earnings of $1,797 after having been purchased as a 2-year-old for $5,700 by the late Boniface client Francis P. Sears, a Boston investment firm executive.

Sears gave Proof Requested to the Bonifaces in 1979 - with an agreement the foal she was carrying at the time would be owned and bred on a 50-50 basis by Bonita Farm and Sears.

Boniface has never singled out Deputed Testamony as the most talented horse he's trained. But his will to win - well, that was something else.

As a 2-year-old in 1982, D.T. set a one-mile track record (1:36.20) at the Meadowlands while winning the Play the Palace Stakes. He finished second to Dixieland Band in the Maryland Juvenile Championship Stakes, defeating future Belmont Stakes winner Caveat. In seven starts that season, he finished out of the money only once.

Deputed Testamony missed the Kentucky Derby, but he won two stakes that season leading up to the Preakness - Pimlico's Federico Tesio (defeating Dixieland Band) and the Keystone. His Preakness was actually but one stop in a grueling campaign.

After a sixth-place finish in the Belmont, he rebounded with consecutive wins in the Grade 3 Governor's Cup Handicap at Bowie and Monmouth's Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Handicap, in which he beat the future champion Slew o' Gold.

Although those were his final wins that season, D.T. returned at 4 and was undefeated in two more starts.

He suffered a career-ending injury while winning Pimlico's City of Baltimore Handicap on Preakness Day 1984. Though injured, he set a 1o1/16-mile track record (1:40.80) that has yet to be broken.

In 20 career starts, D.T. had 11 wins and 3 seconds, earning $674,329. He was syndicated for stud at a value of $5 million (40 shares at $125,000 each).

Bonita Farm moved to its present quarters in Darlington a year after D.T.'s Preakness. And his success as a stallion became a foundation of the operation that now relies on the day-to-day efforts of J. William Boniface's sons Bill (who heads the breeding division) and trainers Kevin and John.

Known as a blue-collar sire, Deputed Testamony is represented by a remarkably high ratio of winners from foals (more than 60 percent), and he ranks third on the list of all-time leading Maryland Million sires.

Although he has not replicated himself through his offspring, his class has come through in his daughters, who have produced more than a dozen stakes winners, including Grade 1 winners Bellamy Road and Whitmore's Conn.

D.T. was pensioned after the 2004 breeding season. In his last crop are two 3-year-old fillies in the Bonita Farm training barn, one of whom may debut at Pimlico this spring.