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White Turf: Horse racing with a touch of frost

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Over three weekends in February, St. Moritz plays host to an international horse festival, featuring oysters, champagne, racing on snow and skijoring.

Posted: Feb 22, 2019 8:20 AM
Updated: Feb 22, 2019 8:20 AM

Far from your typical race meeting, the upmarket ski resort of St. Moritz is home to one of the most spectacular events on the horse racing calendar.

White Turf, held annually over three Sundays in February, is a festival of racing on a frozen lake at the foothills of the Engadine mountains in Switzerland.

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It's been held at the lavish ski resort since 1907, and thousands of visitors turn up every year to sample the glitz, glamor and unique snow-clad environment.

The event combines traditional flat racing with trotting races and skijöring -- an unusual pursuit exclusive to White Turf.

Skijöring features skiers pulled behind unsaddled horses around the icy track in what locals consider the main event.

READ: Meet the 'Horse Barber' creating spectacular equine designs

Two-time winner Valeria Holinger knows exactly what it takes to compete in such a unique discipline.

"You have to feel how the horse is running, decide the tactics and do what's best for your horse," she told Winning Post's Aly Vance in St. Moritz..

"There is also a lot of adrenaline, which I really love."

The temporary arena takes three weeks to build and is complete with all the trappings of a traditional racecourse.

But such unique surroundings require special measures.

Safety is of paramount importance and organizers meticulously monitor the track to ensure the ice is at least 30 centimeters thick.

Dashing through the snow, horses also wear specialized shoes to stop them slipping, while jockeys use masks to protect themselves from the snow kicked up by the hooves.

READ: World's most beautiful race courses -- From beaches to the frozen lakes

Coping with the extreme conditions is often harder for those horses brought in from countries without much snowfall.

English trainer John Best has been taking horses to White Turf for years but says there is no obvious way to prepare the horses. Some don't mind the snow being kicked up in their faces, others can't handle it, he says.

"You just have to rely on your judgment as to whether the horse is going to be one that is suitable," Best told Winning Post from his yard in Kent, UK.

Watching racehorses gallop through the snow at 1800 meters above sea level amid spectacular mountains while enjoying lavish hospitality makes White Turf a must-visit spectacle.

"It's a unique and very exciting experience," adds Best. "I think for anyone who is interested in racing, it should be on their bucket list."

Watch the video at the top of the page to learn more about the special event.

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