William Boniface : 1916 - 2005

Evening Sun racing editor, patriarch of Maryland horse-breeding family

September 02, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

William Boniface, retired racing editor of The Evening Sun and patriarch of a Maryland family whose horse-breeding successes included a winner of the Preakness Stakes, died of a liver disease yesterday at Good Samaritan Hospital. The Churchville resident was 89.

Mr. Boniface, who covered racing from 1937 until he retired in 1982, was a co-owner of 1983 Preakness winner Deputed Testamony.

He also owned Bonita Farm, the Harford County horse-breeding operation now owned by his son, three grandsons, two great-grandsons and their wives.

Born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., he was the son of Fritz Boniface, an English-born horseman who founded the Harford County Horse Breeders Association as manager of Bel Air's Prospect Hill Farm. The son worked there as an exercise boy for thoroughbreds and once was a jockey at Pimlico.

"He was the complete horseman," said Chick Lang, a friend and former general manager of Pimlico Race Course. "He was involved with all aspects of racing. He could write an excellent story, but when it came to horses, he could pull a shoe off, tie a tongue and discuss anatomy."

In a 1967 interview, Mr. Boniface recalled that when he was a Bel Air High School senior he wrote an essay about wanting to become racing editor of The Sun. An English teacher wrote in red across the top, "You'll never make it." He later said the comment only made him more determined.

Soon after, he met turf artist Vaughan Flannery, who arranged a job for him with a New York advertising agency. Mr. Boniface attended New York University at night and took a job with Horse & Horseman magazine, then returned to Maryland and joined the staff of The Maryland Horse magazine.

In 1937, Mr. Boniface heard of a vacancy on The Evening Sun and approached its editor, J. Edwin Murphy. He was told that the job had been offered to another reporter, Charles "Buck" Dorsey (later managing editor of The Sun), who tried it for a couple of days but did not like handicapping races.

Mr. Boniface was given a tryout, writing a story on jockey Ralph Eccard, which he submitted to sports editor Paul Menton. That night, Mr. Boniface picked up the final All Star edition of the paper and saw his story, rewritten but containing all of his quotes and reporting.

He reported for work the next day, and several weeks later, on May 8, 1937, wrote the newspaper's front-page story on War Admiral's victory in the 1937 Preakness.

On Nov. 1, 1938, as a 22-year-old, he covered the celebrated Seabiscuit-War Admiral match race at Pimlico, which in recent years became a subject of a best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand and a subsequent movie.

Mr. Boniface was named The Evening Sun's racing editor in 1941.

During World War II, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, became a combat correspondent in the South Pacific and landed at Okinawa and Peleliu. His dispatches were carried in U.S. newspapers, including The Evening Sun. He also contracted malaria, which weakened his liver and eventually contributed to his death, his family said.

After the war, Mr. Boniface returned to newspaper reporting.

In a 1971 article, he recalled his enthusiasm for the Washington International, a fall race at Laurel Race Course that featured horses from the United States and overseas.

"Suddenly the whole Western world was startled by the news that two Soviet horses, the first ever to race abroad, were flying over for the International," he wrote.

In later years, Mr. Boniface accompanied Laurel owner John D. Shapiro to France to scout thoroughbreds for the race.

"He loved the game," said Charles Lamb, retired racing writer for the News American. "He wrote seven days a week and never missed a race. He'd spend the day at the Maryland tracks and would often go to Charlestown or Penn National at night. He was a great competitor. He took great delight in beating the competition."

In 1964, Mr. Boniface bought a 40-acre horse farm in Harford County, which he named Bonita, after a fish known for its speed.

His greatest racing success was Deputed Testamony, breeding Bonita Farm's stallion Traffic Cop with Boston partner Francis Sears' mare Proof Requested.

"The seemingly unflappable old veteran of the track who had watched horses run for more than 40 years from the press box was suddenly quivering with excitement yesterday in the Preakness winner's circle," a Sun article said of the race.

Boosted by the multimillion-dollar stud syndication of Deputed Testamony that resulted from the Preakness victory, the Boniface family moved Bonita Farm to a 400-acre spread in Darlington in 1985.

"The one thing about my father is that he was always the same man, whether he was taking with [millionaire horseman Alfred Gwynn] Vanderbilt or a groom," said his son, J. William "Billy" Boniface, who lives at Bonita Farm with much of the family and operates it with his children and grandchildren.

"Bill's legacy to Maryland racing was his family at Bonita Farm and his many years of contributing to the health and viability of the horse-breeding industry," said Cricket Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association.

In retirement, Mr. Boniface wrote a novel, Studs, published in 1999.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at McComas Funeral Home, 1317 Cokesbury Road in Abingdon.

Survivors, in addition to his son, include his wife of 66 years, the former Mary Louise Anderson; a daughter, Ann Marie Bengel of Towson; a brother, Harry Boniface of Bel Air; two sisters, Freda "Betty" Moser of Tempe, Ariz., and Helen Larrimore of Mesa, Ariz.; seven grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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