Jumbo to Jockey

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Jumbo to Jockey: One Midlife Crisis, a Horse, and the Diet of a Lifetime by Dominic Prince, book reviewMen are famously poor at dealing with growing older. The classic mid-life crisis usually involves a mistress or a Harley Davidson (possibly both) but in the case of Dominic Prince, it was a very different type of passion that kicked in. Standing on the scales on his 47th birthday, Prince could barely see past his belly but the truth was there – he was nearly 17 stone. He drank too much, ate FAR too much, smoked cigars and got out of breath if he took any exercise. Rather than join Weightwatchers or take up golf, Prince decided to he wanted to become a jockey because he had liked to ride when he was younger. It’s not the most obvious of things to want to do – it would be like me deciding I want to become a gymnast because I’d done a passable handstand in primary school.

Never get between a man and his plan. Rather than just open another bottle of good wine and stuff his face with another delicious meal cooked by his wife (cookery writer Rose Prince) Dominic Prince got the bit between his teeth and set out to lose about a third of his body weight, spent months with a trainer learning to race and entered an amateur race at Towcester. Such things can end in amazing success – look at that amateur rider, Sam Waley-Cohen, who came second in the Grand National. But this isn’t fairy tale time and Prince isn’t a fit young dentist who already won the Derby. Will he cover himself in glory, fall off and get trampled to death by tons of horses or just make a bit of a dick of himself. Jumbo to Jockey is his account of his personal journey from fatboy to fitboy.

I didn’t know who Dominic Prince was before I read this book. I don’t really know who he is now either. I chose to review the book because I’d seen something on TV or possibly heard it on the radio about his attempt to become a jockey but I probably wouldn’t have gone in search of the book. I’m not very interested in horses. I’ve never even been to a horse race (though my horsey mission is to go and watch some racing this year) so I probably am not the ideal person to read a book on a topic like this. Mind you there are lots of things I’ve never done, never wanted to do but have really enjoyed reading about. This book should have made me feel really fired up and inspired by the thought that you’re never to old to do something REALLY stupid. It should have but it didn’t.

“Prince’s love of horses, his sheer enjoyment of his time in the saddle and the bonds he forms with others in the racing world are all very moving.”

I found Jumbo to Jockey rather disappointing. Is it a book about horse racing or a book about dieting or a book about following your dream? I suppose you could say ‘all of the above’. At the back of my mind throughout was the thought these were not sustainable targets. You cannot become a professional jockey at 47 and nobody can give up work for too long when they have a family at home missing them. The diet was utterly bonkers – what Prince put himself through to lose the weight was completely crazy, exceptionally dangerous and should come with big health warnings on the cover. I hate to think that anyone would be inspired by the methods used. Eating next to nothing on an ultra-low calorie diet, using extreme dehydration, extreme exercise, taking up smoking and popping handfuls of laxatives are just not things that anyone should try and I hope that this book will not inspire others to put themselves through such madness.

The desperate attempts of jockeys to maintain weight is shocking and unpleasant and Prince reveals the culture of widespread drug use, eating disorders and other unhealthy practices. All instincts tell you that what Prince put himself through would never achieve weight lost that could be maintained and sure enough, once the race is run he’s back up to 15 stone again, then losing another couple. This kind of behaviour gives you heart attacks serious chemical imbalance in your blood and probably screws up your body in ways that a 27 year old might just get away with short term but not a man closer to 50.

Prince’s love of horses, his sheer enjoyment of his time in the saddle and the bonds he forms with others in the racing world are all very moving. It’s a shame when love turns to obsession and gets in the way of normal family relationships. One thing that wound me up was the use of the present tense throughout the book. I found that irritating and unnecessary. I also would have loved to see a few photos of Prince and his horses and the people who helped him to become a jockey. It’s an interesting tale that should appeal to horsey types and perhaps more to men than to women but I think I’d have enjoyed it more if it were shorter and had photos (or if I had a clue who Dominic Prince is).

Jumbo to Jockey: One Midlife Crisis, a Horse, and the Diet of a Lifetime by Dominic Prince
Published by Fourth Estate, January 2011
My thanks to Fourth Estate for the review copy which is very much appreciated.


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Jumbo to Jockey: One Midlife Crisis, a Horse, and the Diet of a Lifetime
by Dominic Prince

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Written by koshkha
koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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