One and a half minutes, give or take a second: that's the very short time it takes for the jockeys to bring home the coveted Palio di Siena. No matter how much the surprise was dampened by the bookies backing the winning contrada, La Selva, as favorite right up to the start of the race, in that minute and a half, it is all to play for the people of Siena, both on horseback and behind the barriers. And whilst one contrada (district) rejoices, for the nine others it’s a brutal end to a year of hard work and dreams.
So, no unexpected twist, then: this year, in Siena, it went as planned. The Sienese had already identified the contrada La Selva as the obligatory favorite, given that it had the best pairing: Giovanni Atzeni, known as Tittìa - 10 wins, 38 years old, first time in Siena at just 18 - and his ride Violenta da Clodia.
The pair returned the Drappellone [TN: banner awarded to the winner] to the contrada La Selva, which took victory number forty after a race led by Tittìa for all three laps of Piazza del Campo. For jockey and mare, it is the second consecutive win in the historic Sienese race after winning the August race last year for the contrada Leocorno (today not taking part). The others - Istrice, Drago, Torre, Chiocciola, Aquila, Giraffa, Selva, Onda, Nicchio and Tartuca - were left biting the dust
Certainly, there were many variations in the field: but in the end, La Selva galloped with determination and was first over the finish line, as expected. When the order of entry between the canapi (ropes) was revealed, it was clear that the mossa (departure), where L’Onda and La Torre were positioned close to each other, would be a lengthy affair. L’Onda, rival of La Torre, which had proved itself the fastest during the trials, left no room to its opponent, while Tittìa played his own game, trying to wear down the neighboring contrade. A tactic that, as it turned out, worked for him because when La Chiocciola entered the ropes, La Selva took the lead, maintaining it to the end without ever feeling the pressure from its opponents, particularly La Torre, who later came second but at some distance.
This year, in Siena, it went as planned. The Sienese had already identified the contrada La Selva as the obligatory favorite, given that it had the best pairing
After all - as those familiar with the Palio di Siena know well - Tittìa is now a legend. Born in Nagold, Germany, to a Sardinian father and a German mother, and raised in Sardinia from the age of 11, Giovanni Atzeni has become the symbol of the race that he has now won 10 times, five of them consecutively. The record holder has a nickname apparently related to a saying of his: “Tittìa,” is in fact a Sardinian expression meaning “how cold it is!” and Atzeni himself, who was just 18 years old and had recently arrived at the stables owned by Luigi Bruschelli - known as Trecciolino - used to say “tittìa!” during the coldest mornings out training the horses
His relationship with the Palio di Siena began very early: as soon as he came of age, he made his Palio debut for Il Nicchio, thanks in part to the support of Trecciolino. In the same year, he received the call from Rione Santa Caterina for the Palio di Asti: the result on the field was an excellent second place but, in a twist of fate, he was awarded the victory, due to the disqualification of the winner, Borgo Tanaro Trincere Torrazzo, for improper conduct against Rione San Secondo: the jockey, Pampero, had in fact held the reins of the rival horse, ridden by Bighino.
The party will last until dawn. Then it will continue to a lesser extent in the coming days, leading up to a traditional dinner held in late September. The star special guests - it goes without saying - will be Tittìa and Violenta da Clodia. Meanwhile, as the palio is a tribute to the Madonna of Provenzano, the Drappellone - as per tradition - was carried to the basilica for a thanksgiving te deum, while the jockey was carried in triumph on the shoulders of the contradaioli (members of the contrada) up to the altar.
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