Jason Watson gained both winners and weight on a trip to Australia ahead of the new Flat season.
It was a race for the champion apprentice to lose the pounds- and every one will be worth it if he can win the 1,000 Guineas on favourite Quadrilateral.
Weighing in at 9st 5lb, a stone heavier than the day he left, Watson changed his diet and reaped the rewards in just a few weeks.
“It was difficult to return at that weight in mid-February and get ready for the season,” he said.
“I wanted to strengthen up with muscle and I felt good in Australia.
“I’ve cut out bread, milk and try to eat more lean protein.
“My day begins with a protein shake, I’ll have fish and chicken later and snack on protein bars, pick away as we go.
“I’m down to around 8st 9lb now.”
Jockeys may be light but they have to be strong as well- and Watson spends around an hour and a half training each day.
In January 2019, he spent even more time on his fitness, after a fall left him with four fractured vertebrae- three in his neck and one in his spine
He admits he was lucky it did not end his career there and then.
And it was only really beginning- after a stellar 2018, with 111 winners, which gave him the apprentice jockeys’ title and a link-up with top trainer Roger Charlton.
“You feel very vulnerable when you get injured,” he said.
“I found it hard mentally, as I was out for three months.
“At the start I would watch racing, then you see horses you would have won on.
“I put my energy into getting back as quickly as I could, with the help of Oaksey House in Lambourn, where I would do a lot of strengthening work and use the underwater treadmill.”
During the previous Flat season, Watson won the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood on Gifted Master and his first Group One for Luca Cumani in Italy.
Although his CV also has a big race in Qatar on it, which gives him great pride, the young rider said it is defeat that can be trickiest in the life of a jockey.
In just a second, his chance in Saturday’s 2,000 Guineas was over, when Kenzai Warrior fly-leapt the start, leaving him with too much ground to make up.
“I would be one of the worst for beating myself up about things,” he said.
“At the end of the day you can only do your best and if it doesn’t work out then so be it.
“If you over analyse it, it has a knock-on effect on how you ride.
“For a while if I felt I should have won a race and it was my fault I didn’t, I found it tough to get over.
“But now it drives me forward and makes me more determined to get it right.”
As a man with no racing background, driving instructor mum Jenny and postman dad Tim are especially proud of their son’s achievements.
Victory for Quadrilateral, his first ride in Sunday’s 1,000 Guineas, would be the icing on the cake.
“My family are very excited,” said Watson.
“As it’s my first ride in the race, it’s a big deal for everyone.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous. At the end of the day I’m on a horse with a real chance.
“She has done nothing wrong this winter. I’m happy with how she has strengthened up and she has been pleasing in her work.
“It’s like sitting on a colt not a filly.
“The first car I had was a VW Polo and I went straight up to a Mercedes- and that’s what it’s like finding a good horse like Quadrilateral.”