Eddie Maple, who retired as a jockey 11 years ago, doesn’t have a lot of time to sit and reminisce. He and his wife, Kate, are always on the go, managing two bustling equestrian centers on plantations in Bluffton, S.C., which is located near the popular Hilton Head Island beach resort.
“It’s busy,” Maple said on a hectic, hot July afternoon. He had to take care of a horse that had swollen hind legs in the morning and then consult with a veterinarian about the problem. He also had to deal with a farrier, talk to a man about boarding a horse, and make riding arrangements for a visitor from Dubai.
Instead of winning grade I events for famous trainers, he spends hours each day feeding horses, making sure their barns are clean and neat, and trying to keep their owners happy.
“I didn’t stay in racing, but that doesn’t mean that anything turned me against the track,” Maple said. “When our sons moved from New York to Atlanta, and ended up not coming back home, we started looking for a place closer to there. Basically we took a trip and made sort of a big circle, going through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia, and then we finally ended up in South Carolina. I don’t keep up with racing on a day-to-day basis, but I do enjoy watching the races when they come on TV, and I did see where Churchill Downs had night racing this summer.”
The news he had been elected to the Hall of Fame surprised Maple because he had appeared on the ballot six times before this year and had failed to get enough votes. When Mike Kane, who is the communications officer for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, told Maple in a phone call that he would be inducted Aug. 14, “I was a little bit unconvinced,” said the 60-year-old former jockey. “My first thought was this guy could be making a mistake. But he made it quite clear that there was no mistake, and I was like ‘Wow;’ I was just so honored.”
Maple had won such prestigious honors as the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1995 and the Mike Venezia Memorial Award in 1998, “but I just figured maybe I hadn’t done enough to get in the Hall of Fame,” he said. “Somebody always kept finding something better than what I had done, so there wasn’t a reason to get too excited. It was in the back of my mind, but I didn’t ever go and check to see if the ballots were out. And then, when I wasn’t paying much attention to it, it happened.”
Maple ended his riding career in May of 1998 with 4,398 victories. Maple said at the time his most memorable race was his win aboard the great Secretariat in the 1973 Canadian International Championship Stakes (gr. IIT) at Woodbine, and that hasn’t changed in the years since.
It was the only time Maple rode the Triple Crown winner, and he got the mount on the big, flashy chestnut only because Secretariat’s regular rider, Hall of Fame member Ron Turcotte, was serving a suspension. Turcotte had finished first aboard Speak Action in a division of the Rare Treat Stakes four days before, but the filly had interfered with one of her rivals and the Aqueduct stewards responded by disqualifying her and punishing Turcotte, banning him for five days.
“Back then, people looked at you like you were a Martian if you appealed a suspension; you just didn’t do it even though it’s something that’s taken for granted today,” Maple said. “I remember Ron telling me that he didn’t want to look like a jerk in front of the stewards.”
The Canadian International, run on a wet and windy afternoon, was the final start for “Big Red” and “it was pressure-packed up until the race was over,” Maple said.
Heavily-favored Secretariat stalked the early pace before making his move on the backstretch and challenging Kennedy Road. The duel lasted until the far turn when Secretariat took over, pulling away quickly. He held an imposing 12-length lead at the stretch call, and he was 6 1/2 lengths in front of Big Spruce at the wire, covering 1 5/8 miles on grass in 2:41 4/5, only four-fifths of a second slower than The Axe II’s course mark.
“Up until that point, Secretariat was certainly the best horse I had ever ridden, and after that, I don’t think I rode one that was better,” Maple said. “He was big and powerful, and he carried his head the proper way. He did everything nice beside the pony, and when he went to the starting gate, he broke like a shot, and basically that was it; I just hung on. Probably the thing I do remember most about him was just how big his stride was; he covered so much ground. He was an easy horse for a jockey to get low on, especially when you asked him to run. It was like he had another gear—boom!”
Maple won the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) twice, with Temperence Hill in 1980 and Creme Fraiche in 1985. Temperence Hill was a 53-1 longshot in a field that included the Kentucky Derby (gr. I)-winning filly Genuine Risk, Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Codex, and the previous year’s champion 2-year-old male, Rockhill Native.
“That’s the race, next to Secretariat’s, that sticks the most in my mind because it was my first Belmont win,” Maple said. “Genuine Risk had finished second in the Preakness, and she and Codex were squaring off again, and they (Genuine Risk and Codex’s riders) were afraid that Rockhill Native was going to steal the race. Temperence Hill wasn’t given much of a chance, but we caught a muddy track, (trainer) Joe Cantey put mud caulks on him at the last minute, and everything just fell into place.”
Temperence Hill finished two lengths in front of Genuine Risk while Rockhill Native wound up third. Codex finished seventh, fading in the 1 1/2-mile Belmont’s final furlongs after challenging for the lead.
Cantey gave Maple credit for the victory, saying the jockey’s decision to make the stretch-running Temperence Hill move up and challenge the front-runners earlier than usual was an important factor.
“Eddie recognized that the pace was slow, and there are a lot of riders who can’t do that in a 1 1/2-mile race,” Cantey explained. “If he had ridden him the usual way, just sat there and hit him a few times, he would have been about fourth.”
Creme Fraiche was the fourth of Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens’ unprecedented five consecutive Belmont winners. The gritty gelding caught his stablemate, Stephan’s Odyssey, with only a furlong remaining and edged away to score by a half-length.
“It was a wonderful time,” said Maple, who rode many other top horses for Stephens, including Devil’s Bag, Conquistador Cielo, De La Rose, Forty Niner, Miss Oceana, Swale, and White Star Line.
“Woody was a fantastic trainer,” Maple said. “He lived, breathed, and died horses. We were very lucky together, and it came to the point, I think, that he relied on me as much as I relied on him. He had confidence that when we talked about a race, it would usually go like we had discussed. I loved working with 2-year-olds, and Woody came up with so many good ones.”
Maple was involved in upsets of three-time Horse of the Year Forego three times, winning with Arbees Boy in the 1974 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I), Foolish Pleasure in the 1976 Suburban Handicap (gr. I), and Quiet Little Table in the 1977 Suburban. The jockey also rode back-to-back winners of the Travers Stakes (gr. I), taking the race aboard Temperence Hill in 1980 and Willow Hour in 1981.
One of Maple’s favorite wins in the twilight of his career came aboard Awad in the 1995 Arlington Million (gr. IT).
“He ran the race of his life, and he got up and broke the (Arlington Park) course record,” said Maple, recalling how Awad rallied gallantly from ninth in the 1 1/4-mile race, covering the distance in 1:58.69.
The Blood-Horse’s account of Awad’s win made it clear that Maple’s riding tactics played a key role. The jockey, according to the story, was in striking distance on the turn for home and “found a clear path, six wide, and (Awad) was in full stride while the rest of the field was bottlenecked to the inside.” Johann Quatz, trapped behind a wall of horses, clipped the heels of Northern Spur and stumbled badly while favored Sandpit couldn’t find daylight soon enough and finished second.
“I was 49 when I retired, and physically I was in good shape,” Maple said. “I wasn’t having any serious weight problems—just normal weight problems. I had also been lucky. When I got hurt, it was nothing serious; I just had to miss maybe two or three months at a time. But how long can you stay lucky? It was time to go.”