enough vague advice..It's a great time to buy a hard tail--all over the internet there are closeout H-tails (and at your local shops too) on blow out sale. Fact is, 1000 dollar plus hardtails have become near impossible to move (most shops around here won't even stock them any more). So look around, drive a hard bargain, I think you'll be surprised.
These are the bikes my local shop is hawking (www.bikes-unlimited.com
) I'm sure you can find similar bikes on similar sales near you as well:
For a Racy-er Format: Giant xtc 2 for $800.00 or Felt RXC $850.00-I particularly like the Felt-very fast, nice frame (looks good, and has those carbon rear stay) The shop is selling the next level up (RXC Pro-real nice h-tail) as well for $1500.
For a BombprooF Format: Marin Rocky Ridge for $825 (17 inch )-I own one of these---It can take a beating and it's just fun to ride-if you check marinbikes.com you can see it's specs and for the price-it's a deal.
Finally-going with another format: Maybe consider a single speed? I built up a Steel Surly karate monkey (29er) with a mix of old and new parts for around $1000-I'm loving it--if I lived somewhere flatter (like Houston) i'd probably ride it all the time. Fisher and Cannondale (the 1fg is a lightning bolt) both make well liked SS for around a grand as well.
I hear nice things about the steel entry level Jamis bikes-but I've never ridden one.