What is the Assignment of the Horses? (Excerpt from Living the Palio, 2019):
Held directly in front of Palazzo Pubblico, this pivotal event consists of a lottery to determine the match of 10 selected horses with their respective contrade that will run in the upcoming Palio. During the hour prior to its start, each of the ten contrade competing in the Palio march into the Campo in an impressive display of solidarity, marked not only by their imposing front wall of determined men but also by unified singing or chanting as they arrive. If only for show, they present the variably intimidating appearance of a people prepared for war. In that vein, the “fighting” men take the lead into battle, thereby protecting the women and children who march behind. Eventually, all ten contrade take their place to stand in the Campo, amidst the rest of us onlookers.
Perhaps wisely, the extraction (drawing) is carried out with complete transparency, for all in the Campo—and nowadays on television—to witness in front of our eyes. The city’s mayor personally announces the matches from a raised stage. The whole affair is elegantly simple, in marked contrast to the passion it evokes among the contradaioli. Upon drawing a printed slip marked with a number from one to ten, the slip is handed to the mayor who in turn proceeds to read it to the crowd. The numbers have already been matched with the final ten horses chosen to race in the Palio, displayed prominently on large boards attached to the Palazzo Pubblico. To eliminate any suspicion of conspiracy, the mayor simultaneously holds the number at arm’s length for all of us to see. Following his announcement of the number, the second slip of paper is drawn from a similar tumbler to select the horse’s assigned contrada. As this second drawing takes place, the Campo turns eerily silent as the suspense rockets higher. Upon receiving the drawn slip, the mayor publically announces the contrada. The human reaction from the crowd is instant and passionate, though the particular emotion projected depends entirely on one’s perspective. Emotions range from incomparable elation to utter disappointment. Their reactions can also be deceiving, as one contrada might celebrate because its rival extracted a less desirable horse. (End Excerpt)
Today’s Assignment of the Horses: June 29, 2019
The intensely emotional drawing to match the final ten horses to their respective contrade occurred later than normal today, according to local media, almost at 2:00 pm. This was because the Captains required longer than normal (apparently) to come to agreement on which ten horses of the semi-finalists (about 35) should be chosen for the Palio. The horses chosen included a surprisingly high number of experienced steeds. All of them have run at least one Palio, and three horses have won – Porto Alabe, Rocco Nice, Remorex (although this latter horse sort-of won by accident in the Palio Straordinario in October 2018). This is opposite of last October for the Straordinario when the majority of horses were newcomers, or novices that had never run a Palio.
Today, the most coveted horses, Porto Alabe and Rocco Nice, were matched by lottery to the Owl and Tower respectively. As expected, their members went crazy with joy, singing and cheering as they led their steeds to the contrada stables. Also pleased was the Snail, which landed Violenta da Coldia, which seems to have been doing well in recent Palios but has not won yet. The Caterpillar should not be ruled out either, as they landed Solu Tue Due, known to be a strong horse. Together with their star jockey, Brio (Andrea Mari), they will be a contrada to watch. Time will tell in a few days whether the perceived strength of the horses hold any impact on the final Palio victor. As a Senese friend reminded me, we have to wait for “four days and three laps,” meaning that a lot can happen to alter the outcome in that time.