Palio in Siena: The "Tratta"

Previously: Which "Contrade" Will Participate ?

Once it has been determined which ten contrade will be competing for the Palio, the next major phase is the selection of the ten horses that will take part in the race and their assignment, by lot, to the ten participating contrade. This ritual, known as the "tratta", takes place on the Campo three days before the race, on August 13.

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Early in the morning, thirty horses or so are presented by their owners to the captains of the contrade and officials of the Commune assembled in the courtyard of Palazzo Pubblico. After having been examined by a veterinary and attributed identifying numbers, painted white on their croups, the horses are made to run around the Campo by small groups, in conditions similar to that of the forthcoming race, so as to judge their potential.

After these evaluation races have taken place, the captains of the contrade are called upon to select by vote the ten horses that will run the Palio. At this point, the said captains have no idea which of the ten horses they are to choose will be assigned to which contrada; therefore they will tend to eliminate not only poor horses, but also horses much superior to the others, for fear they might go to their rivals/enemies, and will try to obtain a group of ten more or less "equal" horses.

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Once the ten horses have been selected, they receive a new number, placed near their ears, and are lined up in a series of boxes in front of the Palazzo Pubblico facing the Campo. By this time, a large crowd has gathered in the Piazza and is anxiously awaiting the assignment of the horses to the contrade.

In a solemn atmosphere, the mayor and the ten captains take place on a platform specially built outside the Palazzo Pubblico. In one urn are placed the ear numbers of the ten selected horses, in another the names of the ten participating contrade. One by one, a horse number and a contrada name are extracted, forming the pairs that will run in the Palio.

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Each time such a pair is drawn, it is registered on a large scoreboard installed on the façade of the Palazzo for everyone to see.

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After each drawing, the horse that has been picked is handed over to the groom of the contrada it has been assigned to, and conducted to the contrada stable, where it will be jealously looked after, night and day, until the Palio.

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However, before the end of the day, all ten horses will be back on the Campo, for the first of the "prove" taking place before the final race.

Continued: The "Prove"