SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Eddie Maple arrived at Albany Airport early Wednesday afternoon, and it didn't take long for him to be recognized.
"There were these six guys in the Albany Airport, and one of them came up to me said, 'I think I know who you are, you're Eddie Maple,' " Maple said as he and his wife, Kate, were driving up the Northway en route to Saratoga. "And the other guys said, 'Yeah, Eddie Maple 20 years ago.' "
It is the Eddie Maple of 20 years ago and beyond that will be recognized in the biggest way Friday when the now 60-year-old Maple becomes the 91st jockey to be enshrined into the National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
Maple, who earned this distinction the seventh time he was on the ballot, will enter the Hall along with trainers Bob Baffert and Janet Elliot, contemporary male horse Tiznow, contemporary female horse Silverbulletday, and steeplechase horse Ben Nevis II. The ceremonies will be held at 10:30 a.m. at the Fasig-Tipton Sales Pavilion on East Avenue, across from the track. The event is open to the pubic. Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron will deliver the keynote address.
Maple won 4,398 races in a 32-year career that began in 1966 and ended in 1998. He spent the majority of his career in New York, competing against some of the legends of the sport and winning riding titles at Aqueduct and Saratoga. His biggest win, however, came in the 1980 Belmont Stakes when he guided Temperence Hill to victory at 53-1 for Joseph Cantey.
"I'd ridden Secretariat, I won the Oaklawn Park Handicap, I won the Kentucky Oaks, but this was one of the Triple Crown races," Maple said. "I'd been second in the Derby and third in the Preakness, but to win a Belmont, I didn't think I could do anything to ever top it."
Well, he equaled it in 1985 when he helped trainer Woody Stephens win the fourth of five consecutive Belmonts, guiding Creme Fraiche home first in that classic.
Baffert, who has won eight Triple Crown races, including three Kentucky Derbies, and trained 10 champions, goes into the Hall on his first time on the ballot. His top filly, Silverbulletday, also is an inductee based on her 15 wins from 23 starts and $3 million in earnings. She was the 2-year-old filly champion of 1998 and the 3-year-old champion of 1999.
Tiznow was the only horse to win the Breeders' Cup Classic twice, and was voted champion 3-year-old of 2000 and champion older male in 2001. He won 8 of 15 starts for the Cees Stable of Cecilia Straub Reubens and Michael Cooper and trainer Jay Robbins.
Janet Elliot, the first woman to win a National Steeplechase Association trainer championship, becomes the first female trainer to be inducted in the Hall of Fame.
Ben Nevis II, winner of the 1980 English Grand National Steeplechase, joins the only two other American winners of the English Grand National, Battleship and Jay Trump, in the Hall of Fame.