Sport of kings

October 27, 2011

It's easy to overlook world-class things when they're close to home.

In these parts, it is all but impossible to not brush up against historic places, such as localities where George Washington set foot, and natural wonders to include the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River. A few miles down the road in Washington, D.C., itself the center of one of history's great world powers, are the Smithsonian museums and the U.S. National Archives, repositories of the knowledge of the ages.

Then there is the world of sport. Sure, the Ravens are in the thick of things these days, and the Orioles, lackluster in modern times, have a storied past. And what of the sport of kings? Harford County has a proud heritage of being a leading community in the equestrian world.

For a variety of reasons, thoroughbred racing has lost a measure of its royal appeal, having become more frequently associated with cigar chomping gamblers. It's an unfortunate stigma that belies a proud tradition that is a cornerstone of Maryland heritage.

It remains to be seen if things like purse enhancement courtesy of slot machine gambling will give horse racing the push it needs in Maryland to return the sport to the glory it once enjoyed. There are those who are trying to breathe new life into the sport, and they're having some success. One is Billy Boniface, whose family owns Bonita Farm, home of champion horses and a touchstone of thoroughbred tradition.

These days those of us who have occasion to drive by Bonita farm might catch a glimpse of Etched, a world class stud who is standing at the farm. Time was when Maryland was in the thick of horse racing and such brushes with horse greatness were more common, but in recent decades, other states have eclipsed Maryland. Still, so long as there are people like Boniface and several others around here who are committed to the sport, its heritage and all it entails, those of us who enjoy the vistas afforded by horse farms will benefit.

Maybe these efforts, and the increased purses thanks to slots gambling, will bring the sport back locally.

As Boniface put it: "We're obviously making the commitment. Don't count us out yet."

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