kentucky derby horses eat sugar from beets

Sugar plays a surprising role in one of the biggest sporting events of the spring. As world-class equine athletes get ready to compete in the Kentucky Derby on May 4, they fuel up on top-notch feed. Sugar beet pulp, a co-product of beet sugar production, has been shown to help maintain the health of these horses by providing energy and fiber.1


It’s natural for animals to eat crops, which is what sugar is. Farmers in temperate climates plant sugar beets in late March and early April. These plants contain 18% sucrose and weigh a hefty 3–5 pounds. After the harvest in late September and October, farmers send the sugar beets to a processing facility, where workers extract sugar from the plants.


Sugar beet pulp, a repurposed co-product from this process, serves as a nutritional supplement for horses. For more than a decade, many Churchill Downs superstars and Triple Crown winners, such as Justify and American Pharaoah, have powered their performances with a special diet that includes high-quality shredded sugar beet pulp.2 While hay is a typical source of fiber in horses’ diets, sugar beet pulp is fiber rich and aids digestion. It’s also a prebiotic that helps the microbes in the gut, which has been shown to improve the general well-being of horses.1


However, sugar beet pulp isn’t just for Kentucky Derby legends. For horses of all ages and health conditions, it can be an all-around great supplement. Older horses that struggle with chewing or suffer from respiratory problems can consume sugar beet pulp more easily than hay.3 It’s especially useful for horses that have metabolic issues or missing teeth.4 Sugar beet pulp is also used to help overly thin horses put on weight by providing calorically dense nutrition at roughly 1,000 kcals per pound.1


Sugar beet pulp is an excellent way to help champion horses meet their nutritional needs as they compete for the crown. With sugar beet pulp, all bets are on it as a key part of a healthy horse’s diet. Who knew that sugar helps some of the fastest horses in their race to first place?



  1. Kentucky Equine Research. Benefits of Beet Pulp for Horses. Available at: Published March 19, 2018. Accessed April 25, 2019.
  2. Christopherson, Mike. Kentucky Derby winner fueled by shredded beet pulp from Crookston. Crookston Times. Available at: Published May 7, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2019.
  3. Southern States Cooperative. Feeding Beet Pulp to Horses. Available at: Accessed April 25, 2019.
  4. The Spruce Pets. Benefits of Feeding Beet Pulp to Your Horse. Available at: Updated February 22, 2019. Accessed April 25, 2019.

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