24 December 2000

Brough Scott knows from his own personal experiences the sacrifices weight-watching jockeys have to make over the festive period.

The man who rides the favourite should be fully rested by Boxing Day. Mick Fitzgerald will come to Kempton having not raced since the previous Wednesday. In his terms that’s about a month’s holiday, but in the bad old days it would also mean a good stone overweight.

Christmas binge, Boxing Day purge has been a jockey’s tradition down the ages. Even rattle a tin of Ex-Lax near me today and I would have to run for the loo. Fitzgerald, now one of the wisest and most controlled of weight-watchers, is no different. “When we were both claimers,” he remembers, “Chris Maude and I went and had Christmas with his parents in Minehead before riding at Taunton. It was great until the next morning. We had to get up at 6 o’clock to go for a run, took laxatives, everything. It nearly killed us.”

Nowadays the Fitzgerald game plan reads like the professional athlete’s schedule that it is. Thursday off to go shopping, Friday and Saturday mornings on the schooling grounds, Friday afternoon golf, a run on Sunday, turkey on Monday but no Christmas pudding. “All that white meat is good with some vegetables,” he says, “I might have a drink but not a lot because Boxing Day is all business for us.”

Modesty may become the now 30-year-old Irishman, who gained legendary status for saying “this is better than sex” when Rough Quest won the 1996 Grand National. But with five other fancied rides outside See More Business’ King George, he has a really serious chance of going through the card on Tuesday. And that does not mean helping himself to every dish on the menu.

At almost 5ft 10in, Fitzgerald would be 11 stone by Christmas night if he let himself go. But a jockey has to stop behaving like a thin guy with a fat guy trying to get out. “When you’re a kid,” Lester Piggott, once muttered, “you dream of food.” One look at Mick, lean of face but lithe of style and now quite literally a match for anyone in the saddle, tells you that he has the dreams by the tail.

Most of all he is honest with himself. He refuses to waste down lower than 10st 7lbs and with sensible eating, constant riding and the controlled use of his exercise bike, can turn up in very different shape than the binged-out, even bulimic bodies of yesteryear.

What was our excuse? Well usually it was a mixture of self indulgence, self delusion, followed by hectic body-beating remorse. You would be amazed how attractive food and drink can be when you are supposed to be avoiding it.

Then there’s the weather.

Imagine the panic that dreadful Christmas in the Sixties when the thaw set in on Christmas Eve. On with the sweat suit, slog round the Cotswold lanes, swelter in the bath to shift five pounds. Christmas Day dawns with snowstorm and freeze-up. Racing bound to be cancelled, so gorge into turkey and all the trimmings. Late news that evening; no frost or snow at Huntingdon. Sweat suit, slog, steam bath, laxatives, all over again. Long drive east in the morning. Arrive drained to see horseboxes leaving. Racing’s off.

So was I. Thank heavens Fitzgerald is made of sterner stuff.

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