Racing: Perrett on a diet fed by success: Hardship is the cost of a riders' double life over Flat and jumps, reports Paul Hayward

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The Independent Online
JUMPS today, Flat tomorrow. A 12-month cycle that finds him hanging his kit beside a gawky Scudamore wannabe at some potato field one afternoon and Pat Eddery - at Kempton or Sandown - the next. No wonder Mark Perrett espouses the work ethic. No wonder he looks so hungry.

There is not a granny alive who would stand for it. Perrett would be tugged towards a dining room chair while sides of beef and suet puddings were prepared to form urgent sustenance for his famished frame. It would not save him from being force fed to protest, as he did at Fontwell yesterday, 'I'm fit. Really fit, and anyway, I've never been a big eater.'

Just as well. To accommodate his policy of riding on the Flat this summer while waiting for the jumps season to warm up, Perrett has been applying monastic self- discipline that has left him looking as if he could eat a . . . well, horse. The memory recalls the odd example, like Jonjo O'Neill winning the Ebor Handicap on Sea Pigeon, but there is virtually no tradition of National Hunt riders returning to the lighter trade, and shrinking themselves into near oblivion in the process.

Is he desperate? Not at all, he says. Perrett has 'never weighed more than 9st 4lb' in his life, even though he is 5ft 10in and possesses all the snarling, horse-grabbing strength a jump jockey needs to assert control over his fellow traveller.

Perrett is an unusual composite in race riding. On the gallops, riding young Flat racers through spring mornings, they say that he has the deftness and sensitivity of an Eddery or Cauthen, and indeed if you ask him which of Guy Harwood's best horses he has tutored he unspools a champion's list that includes Kalaglow, To- Agori-Mou, Cacoethes, Warning and Dancing Brave. By November, though, the other Mark Perrett is more in evidence. The one from the growling, horse- shunting world of Fontwell and Fakenham.

The connection between these two worlds is portrayed in his face: the retreating eyeballs, the ultra- taut skin. Perrett was 9st yesterday, which meant carrying nearly 3st in lead when riding Peace King, who was top of the handicap with 12st, to win the last race yesterday.

At Salisbury this afternoon he will ride Golden Gunner at 9st 8lb in a mile-and-a-half handicap, and he says that if he 'pushed' himself he could ride a Flat racer at about 8st 10lb.

The price is high. One meal a day, consisting of a few vegetables 'and a piece of white meat or fish'. Cycling in the morning. A touch of weightlifting. No 'bits and bobs' through the day, though a coffee for breakfast and a cup of tea at the track are permitted. He says: 'It's not too bad when you can keep busy all day. At least you've got the evening meal to look forward to.'

Perrett is pleased with the results of his sacrifices. 'I've had 20- odd rides on the Flat for 18 different trainers,' he says (Prosequendo won for him at Folkestone last month). You would think all that dead weight in the saddle might trouble some jumps trainers. You would think Perrett's emaciated appearance might trouble some Flat trainers. But Perrett has enough to worry about with the self-denial and the travelling and the not knowing where he is going next to be troubled by theories.

He says: 'Some people think dead weight's an advantage because it doesn't move.' Sure the Flat jockeys gave him 'some stick' at first, but should he care? This is a jockey who says he is 'climbing the walls, looking for something to do' at the end of a week's holiday abroad. One who rides for Stan Mellor and Martin Pipe, and can 'get hold' of a 'big lazy sod', as a trainer desribed one of his recent mounts on the Flat, and urge it - compel it, if you like - to new heights of exertion.

The difference between the two arts, he says, is that jump racing gives you time for breath, whereas on the Flat, 'when you start pushing you don't give up until it's over'. Five furlongs is tougher than three miles, he tells you, but either way the only guarantee of survival is 'working hard', a phrase he repeats like a mantra.

'It's the only way.'

(Photograph omitted)

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