You don't have to be wealthy to enjoy a spring weekend watching high-priced thoroughbreds race past rows of catered parties, Rolls-Royces and swells in tweeds. In fact, steeplechase racing may be among the cheapest spectator sports going, and it doesn't require a lot of horse lore to enjoy.
All you need to remember is that horses have four legs, one in each corner. They also enjoy running, and their owners not only have a lot of money invested in them but they also love them.
Springtime was made for the Maryland-Virginia point-to-point circuit, where every Saturday -- and as the season progresses, Sunday, too -- owners and riders bring out their prized animals for an afternoon of racing, socializing and fun in the country.
The races, also called hunts, are held on large spreads of land, usually country estates or working farms in such places as Middleburg, Warrenton, Piedmont or Leesburg in Virginia and Monkton, Glenelg, Butler or as close as Potomac in Maryland.
Marked by red flags and dotted with fences made of brush or timber, the course takes a horse and rider (they're not called jockeys in 'chasing) over rolling hills, playing hide-and-seek with the onlookers group at various vantage points. The length of the race ranges from just over a mile to four miles and takes up to nine minutes to complete over as many as 22 fences. Binoculars are recommended.
Preliminary races are held in the morning while the card of seven or eight major races begins about 1. Only Maryland's Fair Hill offers a full race card of legalized parimutuel wagering but bookies have been known to conduct business at area steeplechases.
No steeplechase is complete without a picnic. Sure, it's nice to have your favorite caterer carve a steamship round as your guests stand along the rail sipping champagne dicussing their weekend in Paris. But cold cuts, cheese and bread or a bucket of chicken and a bottle of wine will do just fine.
Warm clothing, boots and rain gear often come in handy since spring conditions are upredictable. For men, a sports cap is considered vogue. OFF TO THE 'CHASES
The 42nd running of the Warrenton Point-to-Point Races will be held Saturday on the Broadview Course, home of the Virginia Gold Cup. Post time for the first of seven races is 1. General admission is $4 and includes parking. Look for roadway signs for directions. Call 703/347-3100 (days), 703/347-9145 (nights).