11/13/2001 1:00AM

Jockey Sam Maple dies

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Sam Maple, a jockey who won four derbies in 1979 aboard Smarten and also won such major races as the Travers and Apple Blossom, died early Tuesday at his home in Wilmore, Ky. He was 48.

Maple, the younger brother of riding standout Eddie Maple, had suffered in recent years from brain cancer. In 1988, he began having headaches, after which a brain tumor was diagnosed. Following successful surgery, Maple took off for a brief period before starting to ride again, but he finally was forced to retire in 1995 after the tumor returned.

Maple was born in July 1953 in Carrollton, Ohio, one of eight brothers and sisters. He rode his first race and his first winner at Thistledown at age 16 and eventually became a regular at Detroit Race Course. He later became a mainstay at Oaklawn Park and Ak-Sar-Ben, the two tracks where he probably enjoyed his most success.

In 1977, Maple won the Travers aboard Jatski for trainer Bill Cole. In 1979, Maple rode Smarten for trainer Woody Stephens to win the Ohio, Illinois, American, and Pennsylvania derbies. In 1984, he won the Apple Blossom on Heatherten for trainer Bill Mott.

Maple also rode such top horses as Smart Angle, Cox's Ridge, Temperence Hill, and Taylor's Special. He won riding titles at Ak-Sar-Ben, Oaklawn, Hazel Park, and The Meadowlands.

Maple posted his 2,500th career victory at Turfway Park on Sept. 11, 1993. He won the Alcibiades at Keeneland aboard Post It in October 1994, but rode sparingly after that, with his final winner believed to have come at Churchill Downs in November 1995.

In the 1984 Kentucky Derby, Sam rode Taylor's Special and Eddie rode At the Threshold, one of the few times that brothers have ridden in the same Derby.

Maple is survived by his wife, Jill, and four children: Camille Hoagland, and Chris, Corey, and Cara Maple.

"Sam was known for many years as a highly competent professional and a great family man," said Terry Wallace, who was the announcer at Oaklawn and Ak-Sar-Ben during Maple's heydays in the 1970's and 1980's.

"I knew Sam a long time, and he was the epitome of what it was to be a Christian," said Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day. "It wasn't a way of life for him. It was life."

Visitation is scheduled for Friday from 6-9 p.m. Eastern at Evangel World Prayer Center in Louisville. The funeral service will be Saturday at the same location.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America, P.O. Box 1964, Los Angeles, Calif., 90009.