We may not yet be sure of when “Maryland, My Maryland” will ring out at Pimlico this year – and whether there will be an “anointed throng” in the stands to hear it (verse 5 of James Ryder Randall’s anthem to the seventh state) – but we can be certain that 37 years ago the Preakness was the ultimate victory for the home team.
Deputed Testamony – Maryland-bred, born, owned, trained, raced and ridden – came through the slop on the Pimlico rail under a heady ride from Donnie Miller Jr. to win the 1983 Preakness and shock the racing world, if not his trainer.
“I knew he was going to run a big race,” said Bill Boniface, a third-generation Maryland horseman who has passed on the equine excellence to his children and grandchildren. “The other race set him up.”
The “other” race was the Keystone Stakes in neighboring Pennsylvania exactly seven days before the Preakness. Boniface, knowing his horse needed a confidence boost after a sixth in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland April 28, didn’t hesitate to run him a week before the biggest race of his life. That was a different time.
“I don’t think we have horses that are more fragile now,” Boniface said. “I think we have trainers that are more fragile.”
Deputed Testamony was the 4-5 favorite in the Keystone and ran like it, winning by 4 1/2 lengths and leaving plenty of gas in the tank.
Boniface had frequently worked Deputed Testamony in company with stablemate Parfaitement and had no doubt the former was the better horse. “He had so much heart, that was the difference,” he said.
Herb McCauley had ridden both horses, including Deputed Testamony in the Keystone, and had his choice in the Preakness. He picked Parfaitement, leaving Boniface in need of a jockey for the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
“They had reached out to some bigger names in New York and California,” said Miller, who had a few things going for him. Though only 19, he had been the leading rider in Maryland for two years, winning 668 races in 1981 and 1982. Equally important, he said, was the fact that the elder Bill Boniface, a horseman and longtime Turf writer in Baltimore, lobbied his son for Miller to get the mount.
Miller was no stranger to Deputed Testamony, having ridden him twice in his two-year-old season and finishing second both times, including the 1982 Maryland Juvenile Championship in which he was nosed out by Dixieland Band.
Miller knew he was getting on a longshot; the 14-1 odds were artificially low due to the coupled entry, borne out by the fact that as a single entry at New York OTB Deputed Testamony paid $75.60. But when you’re a Maryland jockey and you get a chance to ride the Preakness three weeks before your 20th birthday, there is no downside.
“My primary concern was to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid,” Miller said. “I knew the racetrack really well, so I knew that when it rained at Pimlico, the rail was like gold.”
Kentucky Derby winner Sunny’s Halo was sent off as the even-money favorite in a field that included Desert Wine, ridden by Chris McCarron; Marfa, trained by Preakness savant D. Wayne Lukas, and three other Hall of Fame jockeys. Deputed Testamony broke from the 3 post and that was the farthest he was from the rail throughout the 9 1/2 furlongs.
“Most guys stayed away from the rail, but I knew that’s where I wanted to be,” said Miller, who had Deputed Testamony mid-pack for most of the race before making a move on the far turn. There was just enough room for him to get through and once they straightened for home, he had his sights set on frontrunning Desert Wine.
“Turning for home I had a choice to make,” Miller said, “to either go around Chris McCarron or stay inside. I was hoping I could get inside of him before he noticed I was there.”
Deputed Testamony pulled even just before the eighth pole and went right on by, sloshing to a 2 3/4-length win, much to the delight of not only everyone associated with the horse or cashing a meaty mutuel, but also many in the crowd of almost 72,000 who were happy to see the Woodlawn Vase staying home. He is the last Maryland bred to win the state’s signature race.
“If you’re from Maryland that’s about as big as it gets,” said Boniface, who celebrated the victory with dinner at the home of his good friend Jim McKay, an ABC broadcaster and Maryland racing stalwart. “We put the replica of the Woodlawn Vase in the center of the table. He had a band there and it was a helluva celebration.”
Boniface, who saddled 1,677 winners in a distinguished training career, still runs the family-owned Bonita Farm, where 40 years ago a foal with a very modest pedigree was born.
Traffic Cop was a Bonita Farm stallion with a stud fee of $500 to $1,000. Boston stockbroker Francis P. Sears Jr. owned the mare Proof Requested, and he and Boniface agreed to breed their horses and share ownership of the progeny.
“It was a handshake agreement, the old-fashioned way,” Boniface said. “He was a great guy.”
Sears had a small stable along with his sister, Sally Mills, but never a horse the caliber of Deputed Testamony, whose name is derived from his sire and dam, though “Testamony” was a typo that stuck. Neither had Boniface. But once “DT” made the races in the fall of 1982, breaking his maiden at Keystone and closing the campaign with a track-record performance in the Play the Palace Stakes at the Meadowlands, Boniface had big plans for his bay horse.
“My idea was to run him in the Kentucky Derby,” said Boniface, who takes great pride in the fact that Deputed Testamony never ran on medication. As it turns out, the road to Louisville included a fork in Lexington.
“I flew him to Kentucky for the Blue Grass and I arranged a van driver to pick him up as soon as the plane landed,” Boniface said. “Somebody screwed up and the driver was delayed. He had to stand on the plane for 40 minutes and he broke a sweat.”
The day after the up-the-track finish in the Blue Grass, the horse spiked a 103-degree fever, dashing the Derby dream.
“So many things can happen to a trainer’s plan,” Boniface said.
Plan B involved the successful prep in the Keystone followed by the blanket of Black-Eyed Susans being placed on Deputed Testamony’s back May 21, 1983.
“It was an exhilarating moment,” said Philip Sears, Francis’ son, who went to the race with a half-dozen family members. “We didn’t know what to expect. It was a messy day.”
Deputed Testamony won two more stakes that year – the Grade 3 Governor’s Cup at Bowie and the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth – but ended his campaign with three straight off-the-board finishes. He came back to win his only two starts as a 4-year-old, capping his career with a win in the 1984 City of Baltimore Stakes in which he set a Pimlico track record (1:40 4/5) for 1 1/16 miles that still stands. The City of Baltimore was his 11th win, and seventh stakes triumph, in 20 starts.
Nothing will top the day, however, that Deputed Testamony carried 126 pounds and the hopes and dreams of an entire state across the wire first in the Baltimore rain.