Dragon Wins Palio

Dragon races to the finish. Photo courtesy of la Repubblica Firenze.

After two false starts and an exciting race, Rocco Nice, the horse representing the Dragon district, emerged the victor of the July 2 Palio. The win marks the 38th victory for Dragon, and the sixth personal win for the jockey Andrea “Brio” Mari. Dragon has not won the Palio since 2014. A resident of the winning district, the cartoonist Emilio Giannelli painted the Palio prize. Usually depicting the Madonna, Giannelli painted this year’s banner with 10 colorful horses and jockeys, representing each of the districts. The banner, called the Drappellone, was presented to Brio.

The Palio is an important Sienese tradition dating back to the sixth century. Twice a year, on July 2 (in honor of the Madonna Provenzano) and on August 16 (in honor of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption), the Piazza del Campo fills with crowds jostling to watch the historic horserace.

The Palio lasts four days, and the race occurs on the fourth day. During the race, ten out of the seventeen Sienese contrade (districts) compete for the trophy. Each contrada has its own flag. Though there were originally around 59 contrade, 17 that remain today are: Eagle, Snail, Wave, Panther, Forest, Tortoise, Owl, Unicorn, Shell, Tower, Ram, Caterpillar, Dragon, Giraffe, Porcupine, She-Wolf, and Goose. Each contrada assigns their jockey a horse, and the jockeys ride bareback.

The event opened with a charge of carabinieri on horseback. During this procession, one carabinieri fell off his horse and fractured his scapula. The race was delayed, and it was an hour past until the mossiere gave the go-ahead. First out of the ropes were Goose and Tortoise, with Dragon out third to last. Dragon caught up quickly and remained steadily in the lead, closely followed by the horse Oca Porto Alabre, ridden by Giovanni “Tittia” Atzeni. Three riders fell to the clay track as their horses continued running. The horses are trained to continue running, as the rules of the Palio detail that any horse who crosses the finish line first, even without his rider, wins.

Upon Dragon’s win, members of the Dragon neighborhood swarmed around Brio with hands outreached to touch the jockey. A high energy event drawing spectators from all over Italy, a party ensued after the race. Those thirsting for more Palio excitement don’t have long to wait until the next race: August brings the second Palio.

To see a slide show, visit Florence’s La Repubblica news site.  (isabelle blank)