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Battle to stay at right weight

A WORKING CHRISTMAS II: Self-denial and even a portion of hard work are the watchwords for the professional
Jockeys are probably the only professional sports people who compete on almost every day of the week, so one of the principal benefits of Christmas is the chance to take a few days off in a row, writes Greg Wood.

Mick Fitzgerald, one of the best young National Hunt jockeys, is typical. "We all look forward to the break we get at Christmas," he says. "Wednesday is the last day's racing before Boxing Day, so we get four days off to relax and get in the festive spirit. It's the first real break since the start of the season in July, and we can have our annual Christmas bash and let our hair down without having to worry about racing the next day."

Fitzgerald will also take a couple of days off from his work-riding duties, but this is not a luxury which is open to most of the staff. The horses must still be fed and exercised, so trainers and stable lads and lasses will have much to do throughout the Christmas period.

The main problem for jockeys is counting the calories on Christmas day, particularly if they have been booked for a "light" ride the following afternoon. The lowest weight at which a senior jockey will be expected to ride is 10 stone, and plenty of riders who endure a constant battle against the scales have not tucked into a plate of turkey for years. Fitzgerald is a little more fortunate. "I'm lucky in that I restrict myself to one meal a day anyway, so Christmas dinner will seem like a normal meal, just a little bit better."

Boxing Day is one of season's busiest, but Fitzgerald, like many riders, is still unsure where his services will be required. A booking at Kempton, a relatively short drive from his base in the Lambourn area, would be a welcome relief from the exhaustingmileage which is another accepted part of a jockey's life.

The routine will swiftly return, and with the imminent introduction of Sunday racing and a 12-month jumps season, the jockey's workload can only increase. For some, the pre-Christmas blank days could be their last worthwhile break until Christmas 1995.