Previously: The "Tratta"
Only a few hours after the horses have been assigned to their contrade, in the evening of August 13, these same horses are back on the Campo for the first of 6 "prove", or trial races, that will be held before the Palio itself.
The other five "prove" will take place in the morning and in the evening of the following days, with the last one (also known as "provaccia") held on the very morning of the Palio, August 16.
The aim of these trial races is not only to familiarize the jockeys with the horses that have been assigned to their contrade, but also to familiarize the horses with the particular conditions of the Palio : the crowd and the excitement, the sound of drums and the waving of flags, the difficult line-up at the starting rope, the clockwise track around the Campo and its two dreaded curves at San Martino and Casato.
Exactly the same rules apply during these trials as will prevail for the race of the Palio. The jockeys, however, will mainly be "testing" their horses, trying to avoid injuries or unnecessary strain for their mounts. Victory at a "prova" in effect bears no real importance, only winning the Palio does actually count.
Contrary to the jockeys, who can change up to the last minute, the horses, once they have been assigned to the contrade, cannot be replaced whatever happens. Any injury or accident occuring during the "prove" will therefore have a direct bearing on the chances of the contrada to win the Palio, and can even, in the worst cases, prevent the contrada from taking part in the race - as happened to Civetta in the Palio of July 2009 !
But despite the fact that they are, in essence, merely "rehearsals" before the real performance, the "prove" are nevertheless followed with great assiduity by the Sienese and attract an important crowd of spectators. This is particularly true for the 5th trial, known as "prova generale", which takes place in the evening of August 15, on the eve of the Palio, and is followed by a special dinner organized in each participating contrada, the "cena della prova generale".
The regular and rapid succession of the "prove", morning and evening, in the very few days preceding the Palio is an important factor in the process of growing excitement and building suspense that leads up to the final race.
Continued: Blessing the Horses