Unbridled devotion

The stories of 10 Marylanders whose lives are intertwined with horse racing

Preakness Stakes

May 19, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

ONE RIDES A HORSE TO THE FINISH LINE IN FRONT OF A CROWD of cheering fans, and another is aboard when the only spectators are the early-morning denizens of the racetrack.

One is in charge of getting the thoroughbreds out of the starting gate, and another quite literally helps get them started, matching up sires and mares.

One sits in a corporate office, running the place, and another stands guard at a gate late into the night.

Different people, different jobs, yet all the same in one important way -- their lives are entwined with horse racing. Their hearts beat to the rhythm of hoofbeats.

On racing's most important date in Maryland, Preakness Day, The Sun is telling the stories of 10 people to represent the many who have been bitten by the racing bug and don't want any cure.

Gedaliah Goodman, trainer

Pimlico trainer Gedaliah Goodman, 64, got the first win of his career with a horse named Serenta Star. The year was 1964. The place was River Downs in Cincinnati. And Goodman was a completely different man.

You could just call him Al.

Brought up in an Orthodox Jewish family, he set his religion aside in high school and college at the University of Miami. He met a bookie who introduced him to a trainer, who introduced him to the work at the racetrack and the rest, as they say, is history.

And what a history.

In 1964, he started training. He had neatly cut hair and wore fashionable double-breasted suits. And he eventually trained for the notorious, including gangster Meyer Lansky. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis sat in his trainer's box.

Goodman, who had a stable of nearly 30 horses in the 1960s and 1970s, will show you photographs of those days, showing him standing in the winner's circle with jockeys such as Laffit Pincay.

"He was a different guy then," Pincay said. "He was a very young, clean-shaven guy and I rode a lot of horses for him and won for him at Arlington Park. But then he went away, and when he came back, he came up to say hello to me and I didn't know him."

Now, you can call him Gedaliah.

In 1974, Goodman, married and a father, decided he wanted to know more about his religion and took his son to Israel. Together, they studied from 1975 to 1984 in a yeshiva. His son, Zvi, was ordained as a rabbi, but Goodman said he didn't take the test because "I knew I wasn't going to teach."

He came back to the United States and went back to training. But he was a changed man. As Pincay said, he was unrecognizable. Gone was the clean-cut look, and in its place was a wild array of gray, brown and blond hair with payess (side curls) and a long beard in the Orthodox fashion.

At his Pimlico barn, his work clothes are similar to others', but his hair is still wild and under his baseball cap is a yarmulke. Tzitzit, the fringed corners of a prayer shawl, dangle over his trousers.

"I'm sort of estranged from people," he said, sitting near the Pimlico racing office, his photo album spread on the table. "I think they're uncomfortable coming up to talk to me. When I came back, people had a very hard time dealing with me. I was born again. It's called baal tshuva [repentant sinner]."

Goodman would no longer work during the sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. Owners used that as an excuse for not hiring him, "but I have assistant trainers like everyone else," he said.

Finally, Amy Friedman of Susarosa Farm in Florida gave him a chance, and by 1990 he was training in California for a celebrity crowd that included movie producers Howard Koch, Randy Feldman and Mace Neufeld.

In January, he returned to Maryland to start training again. He now has five horses and got his first win of the year in March.

"I do this because I like it," Goodman said. "I like the people ... but I like the horses better. I like the animals. The animal is one of God's blessings that comes with a special grace."

Billy Boniface, breeder

Billy Boniface grew up surrounded by the beautiful rolling hills of Bonita Farm in Darlington. And almost all of his childhood memories include the farm, his family and the horses.

It became clear to him early on that his favorite part of the family business, which included training and breeding, was breeding.

"I fell in love with the breeding process," said Boniface, 43. "I started out in the training division, but it became clear pretty early that I really liked the mating, the process of matching the mares to the stallions -- studying the genetic lines and pedigrees and then the challenge of getting the mares in foal. The timing has to be just right."

His ambition to breed the best was honed early. At age 15, he and his father, J.W., who is 65, took a trip to Kentucky to bolster their stallions. At Spin Drift Farm, they looked at Calibdo and farm manager John Williams offered Traffic Cop as part of the deal.

The Bonifaces came home and bred Traffic Cop to their mare, Proof Requested. The result was Deputed Testamony, the last Maryland-bred to win the Preakness, in 1983.

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