5 luglio 2022
by Marco Crimi

A loss. A Victory. A Story. Siena and the horse jockey


Antonio Mula will remember for a long time the July 2022 Palio di Siena horse race, with his debut for the contrada (city ward) of Valdimontone, which gave him the nickname Shardana. But his first time wearing the traditional jacket was for the Palio in August 2019. This is not a simple clarification, but serves as a reference to explain the relationship that Mula had with one of history’s best loved heroes of Piazza del Campo: Andrea Mari, many times the winner of the Palio, who died over a year ago in a tragic accident. 

Without his master, a jockey so young as Antonio could well have gone home to Sardinia and said goodbye to his love for horses. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and started over again,

Without his master, a jockey so young as Antonio could well have gone home to Sardinia and said goodbye to his love for horses. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and started over again, moving with his animals to the historic Siena horse owner, Mario Savelli. Meanwhile, time was passing and in Siena, after the two-year hiatus caused by the pandemic, the Palio feeling was in the air again. From March every year, training races are organized in the province, in Monticiano and Mociano, where the jockeys prepare for the Palio season. 

And for Mula, there was the chance to make himself known: many will remember his kiss to the sky after winning a race. This gesture was of great significance, as it was made on May 17, 2022, exactly one year after the death of his master Brio who had taught him everything. “It's not a good day to remember. However, it was Andrea who taught me that, at times like these, we have to be strong. It was probably precisely the anger he gave me that helped me win this race,” he said. In the end, his perseverance paid off: Valdimontone chose him to ride the horse Viztichesu and nicknamed him Shardana, the name used by the ancient Egyptians for the Sea Peoples, made up of ancient warriors, thought to refer to the people of Sardinia. Considered veritable heroes that no one was every capable of fighting, the Shardana always managed to terrorize the enemy with the sole aim of never surrendering. 

For a time, which seemed endless. the city lost its soul.

In the end, Antonio won the Contrada del Drago in an amazing race in which Zio Frac ridden by Titta led the race for over two and a half laps, after a head-to-head with the Contrada della Torre. However, we need to talk about more than just the headlines of the Carriera to really convey what the return of the Palio meant to Siena after two years of hiatus due to COVID-19. 

For what seemed like forever, the city lost its spirit. But with the gradual return to normality, in Siena too, people have begun to breathe new air. The moment in which it perhaps became clear that the page was being turned, after the nightmare caused by the pandemic, was in February, when the Senate approved amendment 2.1500/20 to Decree Law 2488. This initiated a path that, with a crescendo of enthusiasm, led to the end of June: first there was the Extraction that established which contrade would run; then on June 24, the tuff track was re-laid in Piazza del Campo for the first time in more than two and a half years; on June 26, there was the presentation of the Drappellone (winner’s banner) by the artist Emma Sergeant. On June 29, in the late morning, the start of operations for the Assegnazione (lottery) of the horses finally made the people of Siena feel that normality had really returned. 

“We have suffered. Every single one of you knows exactly what we are talking about: a suspended time, inevitably long and that no one could ever have expected,” began the speech by the mayor of Siena Luigi de Mossi, who addressed the people of the city during the presentation of the Drappellone. “But as always,” he added, “we were saved by our community, made up of women, men and children. A community capable of reacting to any mockery of fate. The Palio can never end; it is the celebration of an entire people who never give up.” This Carriera will be remembered as the Palio of rookies: there was a new mossiere (starter), Renato Bircolotti, while eight (out of ten) horses chosen in the lottery were first-timers. The barberi (horses running the Palio) La Civetta and L’Istrice were unable to race due to slight injuries suffered during the trials. 

And in the end, there were therefore eight pairs between the two ropes, and only six of them started. But it was above all the Palio of the return of songs and tears of joy and sadness among the contradaioli (members of the different contrade), the return of the noise of the hooves on the tuff and the blaring of the trumpets. It was the return to life for an entire people who had had to suppress their emotions for far too long. 


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