Breakfast of champions: What's in the nosebag?

What do winners eat for lunch?
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Story highlights

  • Horses and jockeys follow strict diets for optimum weight and energy
  • Thoroughbreds use 35,000 calories of energy per day, consuming 8 kg of food
  • Feed is a mixture of oats, soy oil and sugar beet pulp for flavoring
  • Jockeys must maintain tiny weights, using small meals, hot baths, exercise

It may seem like an odd partnership -- one weighs half a ton, the other just 50 kilograms. But when a jockey jumps on the back of a massive racehorse, it can be a multi-million-dollar match made in heaven.

Like any professional athlete, both rider and thoroughbred must go through a rigorous regime of training, exercise and dieting. And when it comes to food, striking the right balance between energy and weight is a fine science.

As the Singapore Turf Club gears up for this Sunday's $1 million Gold Cup race, CNN took a behind-the-scenes look at what's on the menu for champion horses and their riders.

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A thoroughbred will usually use 35,000 calories of energy per day, devouring an average 8 kilograms of feed and forage and 50 liters of water. Its jockey, however, might burn up 1,000 calories in daily training and shed a lot of excess liquid.

With racing horses particularly susceptible to stomach ulcers -- caused by high-grain diets and unnaturally infrequent eating patterns -- handlers are now turning to a mixture of feeds high in fiber and natural oils.

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"A lot of people seem to think that race horses survive on oats and hay, but it's a little more sophisticated than that these days," said Polly Bonner, director of nutrition at Saracen Horse Feeds.

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"We use oats, maize, alfalfa, a lot of soy oil because that's very energy dense, and a lot of sugar beet pulp, because that's something that's quite sweet and that horses like to eat."

When it comes to food, thoroughbreds can be just as fussy as their handlers, and Saracen adds ingredients such as cinnamon, coconut, fenugreek and aniseed to make it more palatable.

Determining what to feed the horses, how much, and how often, is a science in itself -- Bonner said research companies even use high-speed treadmills to measure the amount of energy that might be used in a race.

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Trainer John Best, who runs Scragged Oak Farm in Kent, England, said his horses are fed much like jockeys: three times a day -- at breakfast, lunch and dinner. By comparison, a non-working horse might spend most of its day grazing -- which helps protect its stomach lining from the acids its digestive system constantly produces.

"With the 50 horses we have in, we would be getting in about 3 tons of hard feed each week. On top of that, our horses are allowed to eat as much hay as they want, which is very important for their fiber intake," he said.

The feed must past strict quality control tests before it is shipped all over the world -- and demand has particularly risen in the United Arab Emirates, home of the famous Goldolphin Racing stable and the prestigious Dubai World Cup.

"As the feed comes through the mixer, it drops down into a bag. Along the bench we have magnets, just in case any foreign material has been picked up in the process," Bonner said.

"Then it's pelletized by a robot and shipped all around the world. So from having being made here and cleared in tests, it takes about a month to arrive in somewhere like the UAE."

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It's not just the horses needing a carefully considered diet. Jockeys must also tread a fine line between maintaining energy and sticking to rigid weight requirements.

The minimum riding weight in the UK is 49 kg -- roughly the same size as a 13-year-old boy. It's the smallest in Europe alongside Italy.

At almost 5 foot 11 inches (1.8 meters) British jockey George Baker is one of the tallest riders in the game. He follows a regime of low-calorie meals, hot baths and exercising in sweat suits to keep his weight down to a tiny 57 kg.

"In the morning I would have a small cup of tea and maybe a small bowl of cereal. Lunch would be a piece of fruit and then an average evening meal would be steamed chicken with vegetables," he said.

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The 30-year-old, who uses around 1,000 calories of energy training each day, admitted it was a constant struggle sticking to strict diets.

"I feel quite thirsty a lot of the time. But that's a normal thing for jockeys because you're taking off excess water all the time -- it's something you learn to deal with," he said.

But despite the pressures, he wouldn't change his job for the world, adding: "I get paid to do my hobby, so I don't really see it as work."

They may be at opposite ends of the scales, but when it comes to food, it seems racing horses and their jockeys aren't leaving anything to chance.