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Keeping jockeys' diets on track

Jun 30th, 09
STOCKTON - At 6-foot-3 and just over 300 pounds, Sacramento's Don Fowler cuts a striking figure next to Jamaican jockey Barrington Harvey, who is 5-foot-5 and 115 pounds.

Fowler prepares meals for Harvey and three dozen other mule, quarter horse and thoroughbred racing jockeys each day at the San Joaquin County Fair's racetrack.

Fowler is a self-taught cook who moves from fair to fair throughout California, catering to jockeys, trainers, groomers, valets, owners and anyone else who comes into Don's Winner's Circle Cafe.

Fowler focuses on meals high in protein and garnished with fresh fruit, and he serves a lot of salads - chef's, shrimp and grilled chicken are among the favorites.

For weight-conscious jockeys, Fowler holds a special place as both dietitian and fan.

"Don's been around for a couple years to assist us with our health, diet and food," Harvey said.

Jockeys tend to eat before races and afterward, when they may grab a sandwich from Fowler for their trips home.

"He always makes me an egg sandwich right after my race, with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and toasted bread," Harvey said. "He knows how I like my sandwiches."

It isn't always easy catering to jockeys with finicky appetites.

"They eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, chicken and tuna. Every now and then, they'll have a cheeseburger if they have a few pounds to spare."

Fowler began touring regional fairs in 2002, but he fell in love with the world of horse racing at a young age.

His occupation has brought him home.

"We lived in Stockton in the early '60s, when I was 7 or 8. I remember the first day my dad took me to the races. ... I couldn't wait for the races to come back every year," the 52-year-old Fowler said.

Harvey, who has spent 12 years on the fair circuit, also is a familiar face in the close-knit world of horse racing. At 46, he has been racing longer than many jockeys on the track. Most retire before they reach 30.

Harvey runs five miles and performs a battery of stretches to warm up before each day's races. Like most jockeys, he is also particular about his diet.

"I like salad and fruits. I don't like to eat starchy food before I ride. At night I like to cook fish, chicken and steak on the grill sometimes."

Regional produce reminds Harvey of the tropical foods he enjoyed in Jamaica. Fowler reports that riders enjoy local avocados and jalapeņos, as well as raw lemons and limes, which some jockeys believe suppress their hunger.

The pressure placed on jockeys to maintain a low body weight can be intense. Many riders use saunas to sweat off excess water, and some induce vomiting to purge themselves after eating in a process known as "flipping."

Fowler said such eating disorders are not as prevalent today as they once were on the racing circuit. Medical personnel and valets are present at every venue to ensure that jockeys are well-hydrated.

Fowler said he has the utmost respect for the jockeys he serves, and he understands the strenuous nature of their profession.

"(The jockeys) work hard, and they're very dedicated. When they come in from a race, it's like they just ran a marathon," Fowler said. "I take my hat off to them."

Shuffling back and forth in his tiny kitchen, calling out orders and greeting old friends, Fowler is a large and indispensable part of the region's horse racing world.

Contact reporter Heather Ross at (209) 943-8576 or at hross@recordnet.com.

PDJF

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