Mark Birch: was for many years one of the North’s top jockeys
PICTURE: Racing Post
By Colin Russell 7:31PM 19 OCT 2016
MARK BIRCH, who was one of the most successful and popular Flat jockeys in the north of his generation died on Wednesday aged 67.
He is be best remembered for his association with the great Sea Pigeon whom he partnered him to win eight races, including two Chester Cups.
Sea Pigeon’s trainer Peter Easterby said: “He made Sea Pigeon. The horse was a tearaway when I first got him, but Mark settled him down at home eventually.”
Born at Chadderton near Oldham in 1949, Birch began his racing life as a 15-year-old when, after leaving school, he joined Geoffrey Brooke in Newmarket as an apprentice.
Although he stayed with Brooke for more than two years, Birch’s career as a jockey did not blossom until he went to complete his apprenticeship with Peter Easterby at Great Habton, near Malton, in the spring of 1968. It was to prove a hugely successful and long-standing association, as when he retired 30 years later Birch was still with the trainer.
Birch’s first winner was on Bollin Charlotte at Chester for Easterby in July of 1968 and, curiously, his 1,000th came on her son Bollin Patrick.
In the main Birch, who was nicknamed Archie by his fellow riders, was a popular, work-a-day, no-nonsense sort of jockey who rode mainly in the north and Scotland, and had a reputation for honesty and reliability.
Sea Pigeon was better known for his two Champion Hurdle wins, but he was also a smart performer on the Flat and many in the north recall how Birch was adamant that he would win the Chester Cup on him in 1977. He was right, and Birch also partnered him to win the same race the following year.
He also rode him to win two Vaux Gold Tankards at Redcar, a race that at that time was one of the most valuable staying handicaps in Europe, the Director’s Trophy at Thirsk, the Bogside Cup and Tennent Trophy at Ayr and the Sam Hall Memorial Handicap at York.