The opening of the Maryland sanctioned timber racing season, usually the second Saturday in April, signifies the true start of spring to many Marylanders; much more so than the weather or the almanac. For the next three Saturdays, thousands of asphalt-bound city denizens will walk on grass for the first time since last fall as they join their country cousins to follow the colors of the amateur jockeys flying over timber fences in three or four-mile races that are true tests of man and horse.

Steeplechase races over timber, as a Maryland tradition, are not as venerable as fox hunting, which goes back to Colonial days, but the records go back nonetheless some 100-plus years. And few sports can boast the tradition of family participation which characterize these races, perhaps the My Lady's Manor most of all.

The race began in 1902 as a sporting way of deciding who among a group of young men on the Manor had the fastest and best jumper. Harry T. Pearce, John Rush Streett, J.M. Pearce, Charles M. Pearce and Walter Hutchins were the originators. In the years since, the descendants of some of these men, plus a lengthening list of other families - Bosley, Bonsal, Brewster, Cocks, Fisher, Griswold, Fenwick, Janney, Voss - have supplied two or more generations participating in these races as either riders, owners or trainers.

There have been many changes over the years, but the attraction of the spring countryside remains. The beauty of the race in the distance, the thrill of being within yards of thousands of pounds of man and beast pounding down the homestretch. As a long ago newspaperman wrote, "Today you have fine horses and courageous riders fighting it out over a fair line of countryside, for all to watch and enjoy. How better to spend an afternoon of early spring?" How better indeed. And the city dwellers will continue to walk on grass at the races each spring as long as the descendants of these early horsemen continue to race.