By TIM HAGERSpecial to The Bluffton Packet
The horses at Rose Hill Plantation Equestrian Boarding and Teaching Center don't know it, but every day, they get to mingle with a hall of famer.
That's no offense meant to the horses. Hall of Fame jockey Eddie Maple, 62, said that most of his neighbors don't know his credentials, either.
"Half of Rose Hill doesn't even know that I'm here," he said with a laugh. "And I'm not blaming anyone for that. Racing is a wonderful sport ... but it's not something that jumps out to people on the weekend."
Maple and his wife, Kate, bought a home in Rose Hill in December 2005. His 32-year career as a jockey began in 1966 and ended in 1998. He won 4,398 races, including the 1980 Belmont Stakes aboard Temperence Hill and again in 1985 aboard Creme Fraiche. Maple also has the distinction of riding Secretariat to his last win in the Canadian International Stakes in 1973.
He was inducted into the National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 2009. The only thing missing on his long resume was a win in the Kentucky Derby. He finished second in 1982.
"That's the dream of every jockey to win the Kentucky Derby," Maple said. "It's too bad that it's run just once a year. There can be only one winner, so it's tough. It's tough."
He retired to Long Island, N.Y., after his racing career ended, but when his kids went away to college, he and his wife looked for a new home down South and settled in at Rose Hill. "We really struck it rich in moving into a community and blending in as soon as we got here," Maple said.
He took over the equestrian center in spring 2006 and has been running it ever since. Maple praised the facility, because it is flat and spacious. He said he can see all 16 paddocks from the barn. There are 35 stalls where both Rose Hill residents and people from the area board their horses, with three stalls currently vacant.
The equestrian center also offers classes in a variety of events. It's 200-foot by 300-foot ring offers jumping classes for beginners on up, although Maple doesn't do the instructing.
"I stay out of the way," he said. "My job is to keep all of the horses as healthy as they possibly can."
To help with the classes, Maple recently brought on instructor Missy Roades, who Maple said has "credentials that are longer than mine." Roades has been competing and showing in AA shows for 30 years, and, in 2010, she trained a winner of the PSJ Junior Metal finals. "This is somebody you really want in your barn giving lessons," Maple added.
He said he still rides every day, sometimes on Rose Hill's six miles of trails. Although his main job when he's on top the horses is just to condition them.
"I have one horse, he's my project now, and maybe by the end of this year, I can find him a good home," Maple said. "He's really come around quickly the last six months."
After a life lived running at maximum speeds, Maple hasn't slowed down now that he's at Rose Hill.
"My wife and I both love horses so much," he said. "We're working our tails off doing something we love."