- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2004

First came the strange name: Deputed Testamony. Some say it was a double spelling mistake. Others insisted it was a witty takeoff of the dark brown colt’s lineage of Traffic Cop out of Proof Requested.

Whatever. When the colt unexpectedly won the 1983 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, a New York Times reporter started his story this way: “Good spellers and serious horseplayers both received a jolt today …”

There is no disputing (deputing?), however, that the 3-year-old stood briefly atop the thoroughbred world after his 15 minutes of fame — actually one minute and 552/5 seconds over a mile and 3/16ths on a sloppy track.

Twenty-one years later, Deputed Testamony is an equine senior citizen, at 24 the oldest living former Preakness winner as he grazes away his days at Bonita Farm in Bel Air, Md. His jockey, Donald A. Miller Jr., is a prosperous real estate executive of 40 rather than a relatively unknown local rider of 19. Yet no other Maryland horse or jockey has won the Preakness since their remarkable triumph.

With apologies to Frank Sinatra, 1983 was a very good year for Maryland sports. In addition to Deputed Testamony’s triumph, the Baltimore Orioles captured the World Series, Charm City football fans savored the Baltimore Colts’ last year of existence, the University of Maryland football team won its first ACC title since 1976 and the Terrapins’ men’s basketball team went to the NCAA tournament. Although Camden Yards, FedEx Field, Comcast Center and M&T; Bank Stadium were far in the future, the state was rocking and rolling on athletic fronts.

Especially at Old Hilltop on May 21, 1983, in the 108th running of what cliche clutchers like to call the second jewel of thoroughbred racing’s Triple Crown.

Deputed Testamony went off at 15-1 in a field of 12 headed by Sunny’s Halo, the Kentucky Derby winner and an 11-10 Preakness favorite. Unfortunately for his backers, Sunny’s halo slipped early as he was banged around at the start, never regained his stride and finished sixth — the worst showing by a Derby winner in 13 years.

In contrast, everything went right for Deputed Testamony. Desert Wine set the early pace, discouraging several potential challengers, as the Maryland colt and Miller stalked him. When Desert Wine tired and drifted off the rail, Deputed Testamony was in perfect position to shoot through the open hole at the top of the stretch and race to victory.

The triumph was his seventh in 12 starts but first in a quality stakes race. After Deputed Testamony won the Federico Tesio Stakes for Maryland-breds in early April, his owners considered entering him in the Kentucky Derby. But when he finished eighth in the subsequent Blue Grass Stakes, that idea was shelved.

On his muddy home turf, though, Deputed Testamony was a champion — and he literally carried his kid jockey along with him.

Donnie Miller didn’t get the call to ride until two days before the race, after veterans Laffit Pincay Jr. and Jean-Luc Samyn turned down trainer J. William Boniface. Despite his youth, Miller had impressive credentials. In 1981, he was the nation’s leading apprentice rider. The following year, he was third in the national jockey standings with 367 winners.

“I’ve dreamed about being in the Preakness,” Miller told reporters after his victory. “But I never expected to ride in it. Or win it.”

How much did the familiar surroundings help? Probably a great deal, but so what?

“In Kentucky, he was nervous all the time, but he wasn’t nervous this time,” said Boniface, whose father, Bill, was part owner of Deputed Testamony and a recently retired racing writer for the Baltimore Sun. “I went to see him about 7 a.m. [the day of the race], and he acted like nothing was out of the ordinary. About 9 o’clock, he seemed to catch on that something was going on. He just sat back in his stall and thought about it.”

At 5 p.m., shortly before post time, the sun came out after a daylong downpour. When the band finished playing “Maryland, My Maryland” and the gate opened, Deputed Testamony sprang out of the first post position and held the rail throughout.

Because he rode at Pimlico every day, Miller knew the inside rail was “as good as gold” in the mud. He chose that location although the footing was worse there, explaining afterward, “All the other jocks stayed in the middle, and that gave me a lane along the rail big enough to drive a truck through.”

At the finish, Deputed Testamony had 23/4 lengths on Desert Wine, who hung in to place. Said Miller: “My only concern was that [Desert Wine jockey] Chris McCarron would see me and close down the [inside] lane. But my horse was so strong that day, I could have gone around the outside and still have won.”

At the time, though, his thoughts were somewhat less positive: “Thank God I didn’t screw it up.”

Miller obviously was unprepared for the immediate acclaim that showers down on the winner and rider of a Triple Crown race. He came off the track thinking he had to rush to the jockeys’ room to prepare for the ninth race until officials told him to stay put and smile for the cameras.

Too bad. By lingering, Miller was forced to submit to an interview with ABC-TV’s Howard Cosell, who presumably knew as much about horse racing as he did about modesty.

But Deputed Testamony was a one-shot deal — racing’s equivalent of a rock singer who has one hit and vanishes back into obscurity. Three weeks later, he and Miller finished fifth in the Belmont Stakes, won by a horse named Caveat. Said the rider years later: “Winning the Preakness really didn’t do a whole lot for my career, because the impression was that I was just a local jock who won in the mud.”

Nonetheless, Miller persevered. He rode until 1996, booting home 2,806 winners, finishing in the money in 44 percent of his 17,977 races and earning more than $36million in purses. But that summer, kicked in the helmet by a horse who had thrown him, he realized that such a blow on his left side might leave him totally deaf because mumps had destroyed the hearing in his right ear at age 7. So he hung up his silks and went successfully into the real estate business.

Deputed Testamony, who earned $674,329 in his career, also proved valuable when he was retired just 14 months after his great victory because a broken bone in a foot was not responding to treatment. In 2002, his foals reportedly were worth more than $12million, and he was still servicing mares 20 to 30 times a year at $2,000 a pop.

He and Miller might not have spent much time at the top of the thoroughbred racing heap, but oh what a ride they had together 21 years ago this spring.

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