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Drago wins first post-pandemic Siena Palio

Jockey Tittia wins eighth title in iconic medieval horse race

(ANSA) - ROME, JUL 4 - The Drago contrada won the first post-pandemic Palio di Siena at the weekend.
    The Drago,'s Zio Frac, a seven-year-old bay gelding ridden by now eight-time Palio winner Giovanni Atzeni aka Tittia, held off a stirring comeback by the Torre to win in a photo-finish in the iconic medieval bareback rush around the central Piazza del Campo, jam-packed with roaring fans.
    Only six contenders lined up for the race after three horses and one jockey suffered minor injuries, reducing the field from 10.
    Many riders and horses were nursing aches and bruises after a typically rough-and-tumble running of the twice-yearly event, but no animals had to be put down.
    The Palio, meaning "banner", dating back to the 13th century, is one of Italy's most colourful tourist attractions although many newcomers to the event are shocked at how violent it can be and how much deep-rooted intraurban enmity it arouses.
    This year's first Palio looked set for trouble amid pre-race jostling that forced the 'mossiere', or starter, to call back the mounts seven times.
    But Tittia's sweeping ride to leave all but one of the field straggling rather than bumping and grinding avoided major incident.
    Siena's iconic race, which formed the backdrop to the opening sequence of the 2007 James Bond film Quantum of Solace, takes place each year on July 2 and August 16, although some years have an extra one at the beginning of September.
    Jockeys from ten of Siena's 17 'contrade' or neighbourhoods compete for the silk prize in the 90-second hurtle around the Piazza del Campo.
    The only rule in the competition is that the jockeys, or fantini, mustn't grab the reins of their adversaries. That means whipping a rival's horse or even knocking a jockey off his steed is allowed.
    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 the horses take.
    But animal rights activists have long campaigned to get the event banned, saying it is cruel, has little to do with sporting skill and is dangerous for the horses, jockeys and spectators.
    More than 50 horses have died on the course since 1970.


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