Animal welfare is not always synonymous with some European countries. Whilst Spain may take the biscuit with bullfighting, horse racing isn’t far behind on the list of animal rights activists. National Hunt Racing (aka, hurdles/steeplechasing) has repeatedly come under scrutiny, most notably The Grand National, but it has nothing on the utter craziness and sheer danger of the Palio de Siena in Italy.
Taking place twice a year (normally) in the Tuscany city of Siena, Palio is a short bareback horse race around the Piazza Del Campo. Harking back to Medieval times, the 17 contrade (districts) of Siena come together to do battle over 90 seconds of thrilling horse racing. As part of a four day festival, the race is pure traditional pomp, with jockeys bribing, punching, whipping and sabotaging their way to victory. The undisputed champion is Gigi Bruschelli who is looking for his record-equalling 14th victory. The young pretender is Giovanni Atzeni, hoping to win his first Palio.
Playing out somewhere between a gladiatorial battle and stock car racing, Cosima Spender’s documentary is a high octane adrenaline ride. The race itself is thrilling and seemingly almost devoid of safety measures, but it’s the background which makes it so fascinating. The jockeys are viewed as mercenaries; untrustworthy and often in thrall to the highest bidders. In stark contrast, the fans are whipped-up into a fervour thrown-up by centuries old district rivalries. Palio is a brilliant documentary which flies by as quick as the race itself.
Palio is out in cinemas on Friday.