When you’re gripping half a tonne of flesh and whipping around a track at speeds of up to 50km/hr, you need to be strong, whip-smart and, most importantly, absolutely fearless.
Jockeys are known for their lean physiques — a must when high speeds are the objective — but those unfamiliar with the world of elite racing may be surprised to learn just how gruelling a jockey’s training regime really is.
“I try not to overdo it, because there is a fine line of overdoing,” four-time Premiership champ James McDonald tells 9Honey.
The New Zealand-born jockey has been training rigorously ahead of The Star Championships, notching up more wins last weekend at Royal Randwick (the star jockey rode winning horses in both the Sires Produce Stakes and TJ Smith Stakes — an extraordinary feat).
Leading up to a major race, his schedule typically starts at a bleary-eyed 4am, and features a mix of intense trackwork, cardio and even golfing.
“Exercise is a key thing… [I] like to refuel my body and train harder, than do the opposite, in terms of eat less and do less,” he explains.
Naturally, diet is crucial to staying svelte without shedding strength, and bananas and eggs are among his go-tos in the days leading up to an event.
“Sometimes you’re craving different foods at different times because you’re losing so much weight,” he admits.
During the week, he’ll often crave a nice bit of steak.
“If I can get a bit of iron a couple of times a week it’s a big help,” he says.
But training in the big leagues also requires a mental component.
“I’d get home and probably put my head straight into the form guide and work out the best strategy to get a result,” he explains.
This Saturday, James will be riding star mare Verry Elleegant in the $4 million Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes race.
The jockey shared a snapshot of what a typical training day looks like for him 48 hours ahead of the big race. Watch James explain in the clip above — or read on for his gruelling itinerary.
A day in the life of a champion jockey
4am-6am: James kicks off the day with a couple of hours of trackwork at Royal Randwick, riding six horses in total. He’ll consume one banana during that period, to fuel the body.
7am: Returning home briefly to change, James heads back out for a swim and run.
8.30am: Breakfast might be one poached egg on toast.
9.30am: He studies the form of the horses he’s riding and his competitors to devise a strategy for race day. This will also likely involve discussions with his manager.
Afternoon: A round of golf for mental and physical distraction – James will often play with other jockeys, including Hugh Bowman.
Early evening: Dinner is either a lean piece of steak, or a steamed piece of fish with a small portion of steamed vegetables (mainly greens).
Hydration: James drinks plenty of water throughout the day — super important!
Tickets to The Championships Day 2 – Longines Queen Elizabeth Stakes Day are still available, to book or for more information visit TheRaces.com.au.