Speed

From the swamps onto the lake. Speed was the horse’s key weapon when, millions of years ago, it left the primeval swamps and had to survive in the wide, open steppes. The ability to gallop fast is also one of the horse’s many characteristics that make it so appealing to humans. Ever since man domesticated these equine creatures he has made them compete against each other, for fun and for breeding purposes, and, later, to earn money. Horse races developed into proper sport disciplines at the latest in the days of Ancient Greece. In 680 BC, chariot racing was one of the highlights of the Olympic Games; a few decades later, the programme was expanded to include contests on horseback.

Already in those days, successful horses were put into stud farms for breeding. A good three hundred years ago, the objective of putting the animals’ strength, ability and bloodstock to the test by having them compete against each other, and then passing these qualities on in an improved form to the next generation by careful selection of the stud animals, formed the basis for the procreation of the breed of horse that over the years has spread from England to all continents of the world and established itself as the racehorse per se - the English thoroughbred. Organised flat racing has been held in the British Isles since the mid-18th century.

The first races for three-year olds were staged as far back as 1756. Over the decades to follow, the so-called “Classic Route” was developed, comprising St. Leger, Derby, 1000 Guineas, 2000 Guineas and Oaks. These flat races, which have remained unchanged in their formal principles and have merely been adapted in terminological terms, are still held all over the world to this day and form one of the central elements of breeding decisions. As time went on, numerous other important races for three year olds and older, as well as for two year olds, were created. In the hippodromes in Ascot, Epsom, Newmarket, Curragh, Paris-Longchamp, Chantilly, Baden-Baden and Milan, among others, as well as in many locations in the USA and Australia, traditional meetings were organised, which in the meantime have firmly established themselves on sporting and social calendars alike.

Since the end of the last century, horse racing has also experienced a veritable boom further afield, in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. The first horse race in Switzerland was held on 29 September 1872 on the Wollishofen Allmend in Zurich. In this country, the sport of horse racing, or the “turf” as it is known, has a very special character, as it is not borne by the horse breeders and therefore does not, as is the case abroad, constitute a branch of industry. Nevertheless, traditions still abound and they have been preserved on many Swiss racecourses to this day. However, Swiss horse racing only reaches international acclaim in exceptional cases _ for example, in February, when the spectacular pictures of White Turf are transmitted to all corners of the globe. What makes these races in St. Moritz so unique, so very special, was summed up a few years ago by the former European champion jockey and trainer, Peter Schiergen: “It is the awareness of galloping across a lake. Across the ice, just like the rider in the 19th century ballad, “The Ride Across Lake Constance”, but without the dangerous cracks.”

Corinne Schlatter