The Palio: The Race!
Now that you know a little bit about the history and the people, let’s talk about the race. This year’s Palio was set to be raced on Sunday August 16. However a rain storm hit on Saturday and the race was cancelled. Since it is a manufactured track with sand, it is easily washed away or damaged by rain. We were set to go for Monday but many tourists who only stayed for Sunday were disappointed.
The Palio began with the Historical Procession (on a separate blog). Horses were also paraded on the track at this time. After the police cleared the track and it was swept, the dignitaries entered and took their places. The starting ropes were put in place, one in front of the horses and one behind. Although Allan got prime location on the track right in front of the finish line, I was with the poor peasants outside the piazza behind police security.
The horses and jockeys entered the piazza followed by 4 police. The horses continued walking in a tight circle outside the starting area. The police slowly closed the area.
Nine of the horses went through a small gap in the back rope into the area between the ropes. This was the starting area. The order of entry was determined right before the horses came on the track. The tenth horse stayed behind the back rope. That horse and jockey controlled the start. As soon as the tenth horse entered the starting area, the ropes would be dropped and the race would begin with a running start. It was very tense as all the other jockeys waited for that moment.
After a certain length of time, the horses in the starting area got uptight and all the horses needed to come out of the starting area, walk in the circle before beginning again. This happened 4 times. The crowds were loud and the tensions were high. Two false starts. It took half an hour before the race actually began.
The tenth horse finally entered the starting area; the race began! The crowds screamed! The jockeys used their crops on their own horse and also to hit their opponents’ horses and other jockeys after the race began. They ran hard for 3 laps. The corners were tight and the horses were close. One of the jockeys fell off on the 3rd lap although it was rumoured he fell off to avoid an embarrassing 2nd place finish. Even when the jockey falls, it is the horse that wins. The jockey is only colourful baggage.
The horses made the final turn. Selva (the Forest) won!
The crowd went wild! The winning jockey and horse were immediately surrounded by cheering fans and carried away on their shoulders. The Palio is not a sport of money but a sport of tradition, of passion, a competition between families. The winning contrada brought their horse to the cathedral for a final blessing and the feasts and celebrations continued well into the night and following days.