A NAVAN father of three who had never ridden in a horse race before in his life has made history by becoming the first Irish-based jockey to win the famous 338-year-old Newmarket Town Plate in England, the oldest flat race in the world.
Derek Jackson stunned his family circle and the racing fraternity by bringing the horse, `Lease`, to the winning post in the gruelling three miles six furlongs race.
His three young children, Ciara, Eoghan and Sean, were there to cheer him on. Their dad dedicated the race to the memory of his late wife and their mother, Miriam, who died in 2004.
"The whole thing was very emotional for me but I felt I definitely had Miriam`s help from above", he said. "She was my great inspiration."
Before he mounted `Lease` in the historic race, Derek had to face a major battle with his weight. The 53-year-old had to reduce from 14st 6lbs in early January to 11st 12lb by race day.
The historic race was won twice by Lester Pigott`s mother, Iris Rickaby.
Derek, an accountant, was prompted to enter the race by his old school friend, Dr Peter Moran, who comes from a medical background in Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, and who now works as a psychiatrist in Toronto.
The friends attended Newbridge College together and Derek was inspired by Peter`s success last year when he piloted Irish horse `Baranook` to a third place finish in the race. When the friends went to the start line, there was a friendly rivalry between them and Peter actually managed to come in second on his mount `Noadibou`.
There was an even bigger prize to aim for - the raising of badly-needed funds for the Diabetes Federation of Ireland.
At his home at 18 Herbert Place, Navan, this week, Derek said the race - open to amateur jockeys not licensed by the Jockey Club - was a huge challenge for him. "The first thing I had to do was get the weight down. That was the biggest challenge of all. To get down almost three stone was a big battle but it was worth every pound," he said.
He had great praise for the Conray Syndicate, Conor Dowdall and Ray Brady, owners of the horse for putting `Lease` on loan to him for the day. "The race is very long and very gruelling for both horse and jockey but `Lease` stood up to it very well. I got great encouragement from the trainer John Carr and from Gerry Keane at Kilberry," he added.
"The whole family was behind me, including my three children; Miriam`s mother, Vera Duignan in Abbeylands, and the whole gang. I`m hoping that we will raise €4,000 from the race."
If local people would like to make a donation to the cause, they can send it to Derek Jackson at 18 Herbert Place.