Joe Gillet remembers last year's Maryland Hunt Cup with awe.
He never had ridden in the grueling 4-mile steeplechase before, and it was only the fourth race ever for J.R. Polynesian, his once-unruly mount.
"Horsemen long knowledgeable in the sport told me I was crazy," Gillet said.
But they finished second, beaten only a head, in the most thrilling race of Gillet's life.
This year, Gillet is back, with a new horse.
His Hunt Cup hopeful this spring is a 9-year-old gelding named Capital K. They are expected to make their first start of the season today in the Elkridge-Harford Point-to-Point at Atlanta Hall Farm in Monkton.
Gillet has a unique dual role in steeplechasing: He is both a commentator and a competitor on the jump-racing circuit.
Last year he anchored Home Team Sports coverage of the Virginia Gold Cup, appeared on ESPN as a commentator for the Callaway Gardens Steeplechase in Columbus, Ga., and served as announcer and commentator for Hunt Cup Productions, a Pennsylvania company that produces videos of the local steeplechases.
But just as Gillet is developing as a spokesman for the sport, his career as an amateur jockey also is blossoming.
He hopes not only to ride Capital K. in the Hunt Cup this year, but also to ride and train a horse for the Virginia Gold Cup. The horse, Pacific Parley, is owned by his stepfather, John Schapiro, the former owner of Laurel Race Course.
Gillet predicts Pacific Parley will be a factor next weekend in the My Lady's Manor Point-to-Point.
"I started riding in pony races when I was 12 or 13," Gillet said, "but I didn't really get serious about riding until I started working for Charlie Fenwick about seven years ago. Now after all those years, I've just gotten to the point where I have a chance to do well in some of the big races."
That might mean giving up some commentating assignments for riding commitments, but Gillet said riding comes first.
Gillet predicts there will be a large 12-horse field for the Hunt Cup, which is run in three weeks.
He lists Joe's O.K., last year's Timber Horse of the Year, as a possibility, as well as other local horses like Pleasant Sea, Ballybranogue, Revelstoke, Ivory Poacher, Gesticulate, Sensory Perception and Kevino. Those from Pennsylvania could include Cabral, Tom Bob and The Wool Merchant.
All will be running in the local timber races in the next few weeks.
"And there are bound to be a couple of newcomers that could distinguish themselves," he said.
Gillet said there is a large inventory of steeplchasers in training. There is an abundance of entries at Elkridge-Harford today and the Marlborough Hunt Races, run at Roedown Farm near Davidsonville tomorrow, drew so many horses, a total of 155 entries, that many of the races will have to be split.
Spring timber schedule
Time: Today at 1 p.m.
Site: Atlanta Hall Farm, Monkton
Admission: $20 per car
Marlborough Hunt Races
Time: Tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.
Site: Roedown Farm, Davidsonville
Admission: $5 per person, free parking
Information: (301) 741-5408
My Lady's Manor Point-to-Point
Time: April 13, 3:30 p.m.
Site: Elkridge-Harford Hunt Club, Monkton
Admission: $25 per car at the race course
Information: 557-9570 (9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Grand National Point-to-Point
Time: April 20, 3:15 p.m.
Site: Griswold-Fenwick Farms, Butler
Admission: $20 per car in advance or $30 at the course on race day
Outlets: Vordemberge's Saddlery, Timonium; Alex. Brown & Sons, downtown location; John Brown's Store, Shawan and Falls roads; Butler General Store, Butler; Valley Motors, Cockeysville.
Information: 666-7777 (9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
Maryland Hunt Cup
Time: April 27, 4 p.m.
Site: Snow Hill-Worthington Farms, Glyndon
Admission: $30 per car. Must be pre-purchased before race day.
Outlets: Wine & Cheese Merchant, Green Spring Station; Vordemberge's Saddley, Timonium; Maryland Horse Breeders' Association, Timonium; John Brown's Store, Shawan and Falls roads; Alex. Brown & Sons, downtown location; Valley Motors, Cockeysville.
Information: 666-7777 (9 a.m.-5 p.m.)