Louisville and Epsom have their Derbys, Goshen its Hambletonian, but no race fans, anywhere, have a contest so old or so rough as Siena's Palio, run every July and August—except in time of plague and siege—for close to 400 years. As shown on the following pages, the opening ceremonies are brilliant in pomp and pageantry. White oxen haul the treasured victory banner (palio) over the course—Siena's vast public square; and representatives of the ancient Italian city's 17 boroughs troop ceremoniously around, led by armored knights and brilliantly-dressed men-at-arms.
Comes race time—and delirium takes over.
The horses have been selected more for durability than for bloodlines; the jockeys have been picked for strength. Partisans of the rival boroughs (which bear such symbolic names as Goose, Worm, Unicorn, Giraffe and Snail) may have tried to fix the result by doping horses and bribing jockeys. But knowledge of a fix only heightens the excitement.
Last week the horses went to the post again, just as their predecessors have done since the time of the Medici. Three times they circled the dirt-covered cobblestoned square (about five furlongs, all told). As always, iron-helmeted riders sought advantage by lashing one another with whips of tough beef sinew, the horses swerved and bumped and jockeys risked their lives on the rock-hard track.
The winner, Gaudenzia with Marino Lupi up, covered the course in one minute, 21 seconds to send his cheering sponsors from Giraffe borough trooping off with the treasured Palio. Gaudenzia's success was spectacular, for he had also won the July Palio for Wave borough.
His work completed, Jockey Lupi collected the traditional purse of the winning rider: 360 lire (about 55¢).