Atlantic City Alliance officials and the horse racing industry want to start a new tradition in Atlantic City — by importing a medieval one from Italy.
Called “Il Palio,” backers hope to stage a two-day horse race on the beaches of Atlantic City on Oct. 11 and 13, said Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-Burlington, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean. The event would coincide with the resort’s Columbus Day celebrations.
Legislators in Trenton are considering changes to state law to enable the New Jersey Racing Commission to grant a special permit for the race, possibly allowing beachside wagering and international simulcasting.
“It is an exciting new American twist on a time-honored Italian tradition,” Dancer said, calling the original a “legendary race.”
There would be a total of 50 horses initially entered in Atlantic City, Dancer said, with the field narrowed down by successive qualifying races. A final 10-horse field would decide who wins the American Palio.
The race would be operated with the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which runs Monmouth Park, said Dennis Drazin, an attorney and consultant for the association.
The races would be six furlongs, or three-quarters of a mile, Dancer said. Drazin said while they are considering a number of locations, organizers are looking closest at a straightaway course that ends in front of Boardwalk Hall.
Crowds could watch from the Boardwalk, Drazin said, or on proposed bleachers set up behind a temporary safety fence.
Dancer said the Atlantic City Alliance has been spearheading the proposal. The Alliance said in an emailed statement the race concept is continuing to evolve, with more announcements to come later.
The proposed race takes its name from the Palio di Siena, which dates to the mid-1500s. Siena, about 150 miles north of Rome in Italy’s Tuscan region, hosts these annual races every July and August.
There, riders representing 10 of the city’s 17 neighborhoods make a blistering charge bareback around the piazza, circling it three times on a thick layer of dirt, racing about 90 seconds in all. The race is part of local festivities and the winner brings a hand-painted silk banner and glory back to the neighborhood.
The city’s piazza is considerably smaller than a typical horse-track, however, with tight turns making spills common and the race challenging to finish. Horses can win even if they cross the finish line minus a jockey.
This rambunctious race has attracted criticism from animal rights groups, which have complained the way the race is run is cruel to the animals. Atlantic City’s proposal, expected to be run without turns on the resort’s beach, would likely evade similar criticism. Drazin emphasized the race would be run without risk to the horses or riders.
In Trenton on Thursday, an initial hearing on the bill that would allow the issuing of permits for the race was postponed to nail down some final details, said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Cumberland, Salem, Gloucester, and Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.
Burzichelli, who sponsors the bill with Dancer and Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said he expects it would be get a hearing next week. Amodeo, who has touted the race, could not be reached for comment.
Dancer emphasized the bill would benefit the horseracing and casino industries, both longtime rivals. “This is a bill I believe will bring both the racing and the casino industry together and I think it is a unique opportunity to be on the beach in Atlantic City.”
“We need something as unique and creative as this,” Dancer said. “I think this will be a real attention-getter.”
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