Frozen lakes are utilized for sporting activities such as ice hockey, figure skating, ice fishing, and luge. But horse racing? Each year since 1907, jockeys and riders from around the world gather in St. Moritz, Switzerland, for the White Turf international horse races.
The White Turf races feature as much pomp and circumstance and pageantry, if not more, than the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes that comprise the Triple Crown in the United States. We’re talking champagne, caviar, gourmet catering, live music, and art exhibits in the snowy mountains of glamorous St. Moritz.
On March 1, 1906, a group of 13 men wearing skis were pulled by horses in a race from the Postplatz in St. Moritz to Champfèr and back (a length of 6.2 mi./9,950m). The first official horse races were held at St. Moritz a year later, beginning more than 100 years of tradition that is White Turf. Today, there are three days of races, ranging from skijoring to regular horse riding and riders being pulled in sleds.
The overall points leader after all the races is crowned King of the Engadine.
Being pulled by a fully galloping horse across a frozen body of water is as scary as it sounds, and certainly has led to its fair share of complications and incidents. In 1965, not a single skier succeeded in crossing the finish line because of reins being tangled up and “hopeless confusion” among the horses at the race start.
Equipment and proceedings have since been standardized, but injuries are still commonplace. British jockey George Baker is awake, but in intensive care following a fall and pileup due to a 23.5-in. (60cm) crack in the ice during the 2017 races. The injury and lake conditions resulted in the final Sunday’s races being canceled.
While this year’s event may have concluded early, it was still a historic occasion. Valeria Holinger, 26, was crowned Queen of the Engadine, as the first female to win White Turf.
The 2018 White Turf is scheduled for Feb. 4, 11, and 18.