HORSERACING BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE

PALIO DI SIENA – The Kentucky Derby it is not, but if you happen to be in Italy today, or July 2nd and August 16th of any year for that matter, check out this very unique horse racing experience – the Palio Di Siena. Here’s how the website InItaly.com describes it:

Every year on July 2 and August 16, the beautiful medieval city of Siena comes alive for one of the world’s most breathtaking folk festivals, Il Palio. The event is known around the globe as a totally unique horse race, but it is much, much more.

Preparations go on all year long in Siena, whose seventeen neighborhoods invest every spare Euro and every waking moment in their efforts to win. The evening before the race it is estimated that 25,000 people eat outside, as each contrada (neighborhood) stages a sumptuous banquet to “rehearse” their surefire victory celebration. In Italy Online’s guests are invited to attend.

In the morning, each horse is led into the contrada church to be blessed. After this most solemn event, the city literally erupts, as excited citizens flock to the beautiful shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. 50,000 people file into the middle of the square, while a few thousand lucky souls take their reserved seats on bleachers and terraces in front of the 15th-century palazzi that line the perimeter. Now the pageant begins, and for the next three hours the enthralled spectators are transported back to the Middle Ages.


Later, the horses and jockeys arrive, each passionately hailed by the denizens of its contrada. Officially, the jockeys now attempt to line up their mounts behind the rope which marks the tenuous starting gate, but everyone knows they are really taking their time, making secret deals to crush their patrons’ enemies.


120,000 eyes are glued to the jockeys’ hands, lips, eyes and body movements. When at last the judge lowers his arm, they tear off around the track at breakneck speed, unaware of the screams of the crowd. No one cares if, in the pandemonium, a jockey is unhorsed. The first horse to cross the finish line will win, with or without a rider.

Two points: Loved the term “a jockey is unhorsed,” and two, something odd is going on in Italy if “50,000 people” have “120,000 eyes.”

(Photos by Fabio Muzzi/AFP/Getty Images)