02/07/2004 1:00AM

Caple is winning and dreaming


OLDSMAR, Fla. - Trainer Gary Caple was watching a sports segment about Triple Crown hopefuls in a local restaurant last spring, when he turned to a companion.

"That's what keeps us coming back morning after morning," Caple said. "The thought of that one big horse - that's what everybody in this business dreams about."

Caple admits that he doesn't have that "one big horse" in his 22-horse string. He describes his runners as "a blue collar group," grinders and honest types but no superstars. Despite the absence of a high-profile horse, Caple is having a good meeting and has won five races from 30 starts - a 17 percent winning average.

"Actually, I'm pretty pleased," Caple said. "We usually start slow and start doing well around March or so. This season we've gotten off to a pretty good start.

"We were lucky to get some horses from Gumpster Stable, and they've helped, he added. "[Trainer] Allen Iwinski has quite a few Gumpster horses, and I worked for Allen several years ago. He actually helped me go out on my own with some horses back then, and this fall he called and said he had some Gumpster horses for this meeting"

Caple is a third generation horseman with deep roots in the Sunshine State.

"My grandfather, H.R. Caple, won the first race ever run at Calder and my dad, Bill Caple, was among the leading trainers at Calder for several years," he said. "It was in my blood from the word 'go.' "

Personal problems held Caple back for years until one day about 13 years ago, he "got sick and tired of waking up sick and tired."

He has since turned his life around, and these days his highs and lows come from his horses.

"It's like having a family," he said. "There's always something that comes up with one or another of them, but when you get one you can work with and get them healthy and happy and they go out and run - well, it's a great feeling."

And who knows, one of these days a "big horse" may wind up under the Caple shed row.

One claimer that got away

The claim box has been active here since the meet began, but the buyers and shakers may have missed one on Thursday, when Sion Hill romped home for her second straight win.

Sion Hill, a 4-year-old daughter of Silver Deputy, finished unplaced in her debut earlier in the meeting, racing greenly after she was fractious in the paddock and around the gate. Fitted with blinkers for her next start, the Eugene and Laura Melnyk homebred led throughout a maiden race, in a convincing score.

Swung back for $16,000 on Thursday, Sion Hill overcame bearing out at the break and scored another solid win, this time coming home a 3 1/4-length winner in the excellent time of 1:11.79 for six furlongs.

It's not likely the Layne Gilforte trainee will be seen in the claiming ranks anytime soon.

* Apprentices Rajiv Maragh and Elaine Castillo both rode their first career winners here recently. Maragh is a 19-year-old native of Jamaica, while Castillo is a 23 year old who was born in Mexico City.