Mark Beecher jumped on the steeplechase scene in the U.S. with a stellar start, winning his first race on American soil on April 11, 2010. The Irish jump jockey rode Rosbrian Farm’s Services Rendered to win the Foxhunter Timber that day at the Loudoun Hunt Point to Point. Eight years later, Mark officially announced his retirement as a jump jockey at the end of the 2019 season.
According to Central Entry Office reports, Mark had 485 starts in just eight seasons. He won 106 times, finished second 106 times and third 54 times. His career spans both the local point-to-point and national steeplechase circuits, earning him five National Steeplechase Association titles and 12 Maryland Steeplechase Association titles.
Horses he has ridden over the years have also earned numerous Maryland and National Steeplechase titles, making Mark a much sought after jockey. “Mark is a great timber rider. He has a great ability to get the most out of any horse he rides,” said Will O’Keefe of the Central Entry Office. O’Keefe is also the announcer at the majority of races in Maryland.
Although Mark is hanging up his irons in terms of being a jockey, he is not leaving the industry altogether as he has slid naturally into the trainer role, finding success there as well.
Mark’s first year in the U.S. included 27 races in which he won five times, placed second six times and third twice. That year was also the first time Mark rode in the famed Maryland Hunt Cup. Hailed as the largest course in the U.S., the Maryland Hunt Cup tends to separate the good horses from the great horses. Mark rode Sportsmans Hall’s Private Attack in 2010 to finish second. Private Attack went on to win the 2011 Maryland Hunt Cup with Blythe Miller Davies in the irons. Mark would win the Maryland Hunt Cup twice on two different horses.
In his second season, Mark garnered attention on the national level as he finished with points in several top races including winning the International Gold Cup Races on October 15, 2011. Riding Incomplete for owner Robert Kinsley, Mark’s win pushed him up in the national standings to earn his first National Steeplechase Association titles: Leading Apprentice Rider and High Weight Timber Rider.
In 2012, Mark more than doubled the number of races he rode with 68 in total. He started at Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds Point to Point in early March and finished with the Marion duPont Scott Colonial Cup mid November. This was also the year that his partnership with Michael Wharton’s Grinding Speed really took off.
Mark first rode the grey Maryland-bred at the Potomac Races in 2010 where they won the Maiden Hurdle. In 2011, Jacob Roberts rode the young horse but Mark was back in the irons for the 2012 season, winning three and finishing second twice out of six races together. They capped the season with Grinding Speed’s first International Gold Cup Timber Stakes victory. Their success together did not end with just one season either!
“Mark piloted ‘Speedy’ to victory in three International Gold Cups, two Virginia Gold Cups, one [My Lady’s] Manor victory and many other wins,” said owner Wharton. “Mark’s brilliant riding helped Speedy earn NSA Timber honors in 2015. He is one of the finest timber riders of his generation and we are lucky that we had the great gift of his talents.”
In 2012, Mark earned NSA’s Leading Apprentice Rider title for the second time and swept the MSA rider titles earning Leading Timber Rider, Overall Leading Rider and Leading Amateur Rider awards. He won the NSA Leading Amateur Rider title in 2013.
After having a bit of bad luck in the 2011 and 2012 Maryland Hunt Cups, 2013 was Mark’s year aboard the 14-year-old Professor Maxwell for owner Mrs. George Ohrstrom, Jr., and trainer Richard Valentine. Professor Maxwell had a long career as a steeplechase horse starting in 2003 when Janet Elliot owned him. He first ran over hurdles in 2004 with mixed results. It was not until April 2005 that he found his way to the winner’s circle with a victory in the Middleburg Spring Races Maiden Hurdle with Colvin Ryan on board.
Professor Maxwell ran over timber for the first time in 2007 under new trainer Richard Valentine and owner Anna Stable. Timber is where Professor Maxwell truly shined as he started picking up wins including the Amateur Highweight Timber at the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup Races in November 2007. Changing owners a few more times but staying in Valentine’s barn, Professor Maxwell made his Maryland Hunt Cup debut in 2010 when he lost rider Gus Brown and did not finish.
Mark did not hop on board until the Open Timber at Mr. Stewart’s Cheshire Foxhounds Point to Point where they finished second in April 2013. Just a few weeks later, the two were in the paddock for the Maryland Hunt Cup.
The race started out hitch free for the pair but somewhere near the middle of the course, Mark got jostled and lost both stirrups. His experience and brilliant riding kept him in the irons as he jumped a few fences, including the daunting 4’9’’ Fence 13, nicknamed the “Union Memorial”, without stirrups.
This incredible feat of horsemanship is what made their victory so memorable and was of course, the image we wanted to use for this February’s tribute cover. While planning this cover with Mark’s wife Rebecca, she commented, “If we could find [a photo] of him and Professor Maxwell jumping the 13th with no stirrups I think that would be ideal!” So the search for the right photo began. After nearly two months of searching, Meg Harrigan’s profile shot emerged as the perfect image to depict that epic win.
Mark swept the MSA rider titles again in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He earned NSA’s Leading Timber Rider and Leading Amateur Rider titles in 2015.
He won his second Maryland Hunt Cup in 2015 aboard Ann Jackson’s Raven’s Choice. Bred in Maryland by Ann’s late husband, Cary W. Jackson, Mark’s first win with the big bay gelding was the Grand National Steeplechase in 2014. Trained by Todd Wyatt for his entire career, Raven’s Choice was not the favorite headed into the 2015 Maryland Hunt Cup and nearly fell at the 12th fence. Once again, Mark’s brilliant riding saved the day and Raven’s Choice remained on his feet and raced to what looked like a close second place finish to Bethany Baumgardner and Imperial Way.
Bethany Baumgardner, however, had lost her weight pad at the 19th fence and Imperial Way was disqualified, giving the win to Raven’s Choice. Jackson later joked that it was the spirit of her husband who pulled the pad free as he had never had a horse win the Maryland Hunt Cup during his lifetime.
Mark continued to have many memorable rides and frankly, rode too many horses to mention in just one article! He earned another NSA Leading Amateur Rider title in 2017 and finished off his career with the Virginia Point to Point Foundation’s Foxhunter Championship.
As a trainer, Mark has already picked up 149 starts since 2014 and we certainly all look forward to seeing him out on race days here in Maryland for many seasons to come!