Maryland's steeplechase trainers and jockeys have been braving the elements all winter to get their horses ready for the spring jumping circuit.
Steeplechasing in the Baltimore area gets under way Saturday at the Howard County-Iron Bridge Point-to-Point at Meriwether Farm in Glenelg.
The Foxcatcher Point-to-Point is run on the same day at the Fair Hill Notebook
Race Course in Cecil County, but is part of the Delaware Valley circuit that is comprised mainly of Pennsylvania races.
There is a possibility that Von Csadek, last year's Maryland Hunt Cup winner, will use the Howard County Cup as a prep for the April 3 English Grand National at Aintree Race Course in Liverpool.
"That's the exciting news," said Charles Fenwick Jr., who won the Aintree race aboard Ben Nevis II in 1981. "If it can all come together for the Worrall family [owners and trainers of Von Csadek], it will be quite an accomplishment."
Doug Worrall, the trainer, plans to fly Von Csadek to England on March 28, run the horse in the world famous jump race on April 3 and immediately return him to Baltimore County for another try in the Maryland Hunt Cup April 24. Von Csadek won the Hunt Cup last year by about 40 lengths.
Worrall's son, Patrick, is Von Csadek's jockey.
Fenwick, Jeremy Gilliam, Jack Fisher, Joe Gillet and Alicia Murphy-- all based in Baltimore and Harford counties -- finished among the nation's top 10 steeplechase trainers in 1992. All are back in action this spring.
Victoria Schlesinger, the nation's second leading rider, and Colvin "Greg" Ryan, who finished ninth, will also figure prominently on the circuit as well as Joe Delozier III, the top apprentice.
The Prince George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro is the sponsor of the annual Governor's Cup awards, which honor the leading horses and jockeys on the point-to-point circuit. These races are non-sanctioned events and are not formally recognized by the National Steeplechase Association.
Architecture, Chick Owens' 1992 Horse of the Year, and George Mahoney's Patrick's Butler, the best novice jumper, are expected to return this spring.
Kelly Conaway, the leading junior rider from Mt. Airy; Delozier, the winningest jockey and Fisher, the top trainer, will also be be back to defend their titles.
Von Csadek, Pleasant Sea, who is owned by Turney McKnight and ridden by his wife Liz, and Mrs. Dolly Fisher's Revelstoke, winner last year at My Lady's Manor and the Grand National at Butler, are considered the three leading contenders for the Maryland Hunt Cup.
The purse for the April 24 race has been raised from $25,000 to $30,000 for this year's 97th running.
Unlike flat racing, which is experiencing a horse shortage, there is a large inventory of jumpers available.
There is the possibility that steeplechase races will be carded at Laurel/Pimlico every Tuesday and Thursday during June or July this summer.
Track and steeplechase officials are currently working out the details.
Rosecroft inter-track plans
When cross-breed simulcasting between the state's thoroughbred and harness tracks starts next month, Rosecroft president Ted Snell said nightly cards from Rosecroft and Delmarva Downs will be televised into Laurel and Pimlico as well as the out-of-state races from The Meadowlands.
Delmarva Downs near Ocean City starts racing four-day weeks on April 2.
"We will limit ourselves to those three signals," Snell said. But on Sundays, expect full card simulcasts from Balmoral Park in Illinois, too.
In the afternoons, trotting races from Freehold Raceway in Freehold, N.J., will be simulcast during the thoroughbred time slot.
The thoroughbred menu will include two or possibly three out-of-state full-card signals as well as the live daily card. That means from 1 p.m. to midnight expect about 36 thoroughbred races each day and the same number or more of harness races.
Snell was recently elected vice president of Harness Tracks of America, the equivalent of flat racing's Thoroughbred Racing Associations.
At last week's Maryland Racing Commission meeting, Snell told the board that starting after Labor Day, the Rosecroft signal will be simulcast at all New Jersey tracks on Tuesdays.
There is the possibility that if Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, N.J., fails to re-open in the fall, Rosecroft will go statewide in New Jersey every weekday.
"That means a significant boost to our harness purses," Snell said.
Snell meets in a couple of weeks with Maryland State Lottery officials to discuss starting a weekly horse-racing lottery game.
"Even if we don't link up with the lottery right away," Snell said, "we could have a daily twin-trifecta between the thoroughbred and harness tracks when we get into cross-breed simulcasting."
Snell said that officials at AmTote International, Inc., the company that provides Maryland tracks with pari-mutuel equipment, told him that such a bet is workable with the tracks' current wagering machines.
1993 Maryland spring steeplechase schedule
20 -- Howard County-Iron Bridge Point-to-Point, Meriwether Farm, Glenelg
20 -- Foxcatcher Point-to-Point, Fair Hill Race Course, Fair Hill
3 -- Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point, Atlanta Hall Farm, Monkton
-- Marlborough hunt races, Roedown Farm, Davidsonville
-- My Lady's Manor Point-to-Point, Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club, Monkton
17 -- Grand National Steeplechase, Griswold-Fenwick farms, Butler
24 -- Maryland Hunt Cup, Worthington Farm, Glyndon
9 -- Potomac Hunt Races, Bittersweet Field, Seneca
-- Fair Hill races, Fair Hill Race Course, Fair Hill