Horse racing is a sport that is enjoyed all over the world. Yet, you might not realize that Italy has a proud heritage in horse racing. Indeed, it stands alongside the UK, Ireland, and France as hosting some of the biggest events in Europe.
The first evidence of horse racing in this country refers to new horses being imported for breeding in 1773. The first Italian society for this sport was established in 1835 but what do you need to know about the current horse racing scene here?
The Big Races – Gran Premio Merano
Arguably the top race held here is the Gran Premio Merano steeplechase. It is run every September in the town of Meran, in the north of the country. This race’s history can be traced back to 1935.
Around 13,000 people now attend every year to watch the 5,000-meter race unfold. There are 24 obstacles for the horses to jump over as they make their way around the figure of eight shaped course.
This event features the biggest prize in the Italian steeplechase circuit. The purse was reported to be €250,000 ($275,000) in 2018.
Premio Vittorio di Capua
Another major event in the Italian horse racing calendar is the Premio Vittorio di Capua flat race. It takes place at the San Siro Racecourse in Milan and is scheduled for either September or October each year.
Thoroughbreds that are three years of age or older can take place in this 1,600-meter event. It is a Group 2 event and the most recent details of the purse have it as $275,000 ($303,000). If you enjoy watching horse racing, then this is an event to look forward as it movements as much money as the odds of the American Kentucky Derby.
Palio di Siena
Perhaps the most spectacular and colourful affair is the Palio di Siena. This is a race held in scenic Siena in July and August each year. It features just ten riders, who each ride bareback around three laps of the Piazza del Campo.
It is a great attraction for tourists, and the race follows an exciting pageant. However, the race itself only lasts for around a minute and a half. In that time, it is common to see jockeys get unseated from their horses.
The Top Jockeys – Frankie Dettori
Who are the jockeys that have had most success here and abroad? It is impossible to write about Italian horse racing without mentioning Frankie Dettori. Born in Milan, he is still riding winners all around the world on a regular basis at the age of 49.
Dettori is the son of a famous jockey and he began his own career with a win in Turin in 1986. Since then, he has racked up more than 250 Group 1 wins as well as numerous other victories. Most famously, he once won all seven races in a single day at Ascot in the UK.
Dettori is widely regarded as the best jockey in the world just now. However, his career has also seen a fair share of controversial moments, most notably the suspension for taking a prohibited substance.
Another successful Italian jockey, Luigi Bruschelli is acclaimed at the most successful active jockey competing in the Palio di Siena. He has won this event 13 times, starting in 1996.Andrea Degortes won it 14 times but is now retired.
Like Dettori, he has seen his long riding career caught up in controversy at times. Bruschelli was sentenced to four years and ten months in prison in 2019, following a long investigation into doping and animal cruelty.
The Italian horse racing scene remains vibrant and exciting. While it doesn’t achieve the global attention of the likes of the Kentucky Derby or the UK’s top races, it is well worth taking a look at.