(ANSA) – ROME, JULY 4 – La Drago contrada won the first post-pandemic Palio di Siena this weekend.
The Drago, Zio Frac, a seven-year-old bay gelding ridden by eight-time Palio winner Giovanni Atzeni aka Tittia, held off an emotional comeback from Torre to win in a photo-finish in the iconic rush medieval bareback around the central Piazza del Campo, crowded with roaring fans.
Only six contenders lined up for the race after three horses and a jockey suffered minor injuries, reducing the field by 10.
Many riders and horses were nursing pains and bruises after a typically bumpy run in the biannual event, but no animals had to be put down.
The 13th-century Palio, meaning ‘banner’, is one of Italy’s most colorful tourist attractions, although many new to the event are shocked by how violent it can be and by the deep-rooted intra-urban enmity it arouses.
This year’s first Palio looked set to be in trouble amid pre-race scrambles that forced the ‘mossiere’, or starter, to recall mounts seven times.
But Tittia’s quick run to leave all but one of the peloton rather than bump and rub averted a major incident.
The iconic Siena race, which formed the backdrop to the opening sequence of the 2007 James Bond film Quantum of Solace, takes place annually on July 2 and August 16, although some years have an additional start september.
Jockeys from ten of Siena’s 17 “contrade” or neighborhoods compete for the price of silk in the 90-second race around Piazza del Campo.
The only rule of competition is that jockeys, or fantinis, must not grab the reins from their opponents. This means it is permissible to whip a rival’s horse or even knock a jockey off his mount.
Victory goes to the first horse to complete three laps of the square, even if it arrives at the finishing post without a rider.
The chaotic race in Siena’s main square attracts thousands of visitors each year who are mostly oblivious to the punishment inflicted on the horses.
But animal rights activists have long campaigned to have the event banned, saying it is cruel, has nothing to do with sporting skill and is dangerous for horses, jockeys and the spectators.
More than 50 horses have died on the course since 1970.
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