Beverley racecourse will on Bank Holiday Monday (May 7) pay its respects to former leading jockey Mark Birch by staging a race named in his memory.
Birch, who died of lung cancer in October 2016 at the age of 67, enjoyed a 30-year association with Peter Easterby and twice won the Chester Cup aboard the legendary Sea Pigeon. He retired from race-riding in 1998, having ridden 1,339 winners and having been crowned top northern jockey seven times. He then became assistant to Kevin Ryan and played a huge part in the Hambleton trainer's rise to the top.
The Mark Birch Memorial Handicap over five furlongs (2.30) at Beverley will acknowledge his significant contribution towards racing in the north. Beverley’s memorial race was the idea of Birch’s daughter, Jill Boak, who will also take part in the ‘Ride of their Lives' charity race at York on June 16 in honour of her late father.
She said: “It’s all been part of the grieving journey, and it's lovely to have a race at Beverley in Dad's memory. Beverley was one of Dad's favourite tracks so it seemed fitting to have a race there before we head to York.
"Beverley also means a lot to Mum, who will be giving out the award for best-turned-out horse.
"When we were collecting at Pontefract for Macmillan Cancer Support it was amazing all the people who donated who knew Mark and remembered him when he was a jockey. We'll also be collecting at the gates at Beverley before racing, so hopefully people can once again come out to support us."
Jill will ride at York in the ‘Ride of their Lives' charity race, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, as she attempts to raise £10 for every race her father won – a target of £13,390. Jill, who lives in Norton, added: “As kids, we very lucky as Mum and Dad both worked in racing. But I left home when I was 18 and didn't ride a horse again until I was in my 30s. I dabbled a bit, but I'd never ridden a racehorse until last year, when I decided to apply for the York charity race. I had to do something in tribute to Dad and when I came across the charity race, I knew it was thing I had to do."
Since February 2017, Jill has been working on her fitness at Jack Berry House, in Malton. She now rides out three mornings at Tim Easterby's Great Habton stables and on one morning at Ryan's yard.
Jill said: "I'm still not quite sure what I'll be riding at York, but it will be one of Tim's or Kevin's horses. I'm just delighted to be involved. Dad’s ashes are scattered at York’s winning post, so to gallop past there, knowing he’s there, will mean the world to me."
Beverley racecourse chief executive Sally Iggulden said: "Mark played such a pivotal role in northern racing and is truly a much-missed member of our community. We are deeply honoured to stage a race named in his memory and wish Jill and her family all the love in the world as she gears up for the charity race at York."
Donations can be made on Jill’s JustGiving page – www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Jill-boak – or by post to 14 Park Grove, Norton, Malton, North Yorkshire, YO17 9ED.