When Atlantic City hosts its inaugural American Palio horse race in October, a delegation from the event's ancestral home in Italy is expected to be in town to ensure it gets off on the right hoof.
Italian organizers are working to arrange a visit from two of the most successful jockeys in the Palio's history, said Alarico Rossi, an Italian journalist with the newspaper Corriere di Siena who is helping organize the group.
Andrea Degortes, a 14-time winner nicknamed "Aceto," or "Vinegar," and Luigi Bruschelli, who has won 13 times, may visit along with Istriceddu, a 9-year-old gelding that has twice finished first. Their visits, Rossi wrote in an email, would come "not for the race, but (as a) sign of friendship between Siena and Atlantic City."
Emiliano Rinaldi, a Palio horse owner and international designer who has said he has drawn inspiration from the outfits worn by Palio jockeys, may also attend.
Assemblyman John Amodeo, R-Atlantic, said another delegation may include Italian tourists, who annually visit the state and attend Columbus Day events.
As many as 50 horses are expected to take part in the race, which is based on the medieval Palio di Siena. That race is an ancient contest that pits 10 bareback riders against one another in the narrow Piazza del Campo in the center of the town. Tens of thousands of spectators throng the plaza, which is covered with turf for the occasion.
Each rider represents a different neighborhood, or contrada. The race is fast, with tight turns that can make it hard for the horse to keep its footing. Collisions are frequent and it is possible for a horse to win the race even if a jockey is thrown.
The New Jersey Legislature passed a bill in late June enabling the New Jersey Racing Commission to sanction an American version of the ancient race on the state's beaches. Late amendments to the bill also allowed the racing commission to authorize steeplechase races - obstacle-laden horse races - outside of established racetracks.
Gov. Chris Christie is expected to sign the bill, granting final approval, soon.
In the weeks since the Legislature passed the bill, Amodeo said the Atlantic City Alliance and the New Jersey Racing Commission have worked to finalize details. The race has been reduced from two days to one, Amodeo said. Instead of 50 horses representing the 50 states, he said there may be several races, and with 12 horses representing the resort's casinos.
In July, The Press of Atlantic City columnist Pinky Kravitz reported that there would be no wagering on the beach race, since it would cost more than $800,000 to temporarily install the cameras and other equipment needed to accurately host betting. Amodeo disputed that, saying organizers still hoped to simulcast the race, while setting up a beach trailer to take bets.
"They have to think out of the box," Amodeo said. "We can't spend a million dollars on a race. We got to put a race together that is financially efficient and at the same time draws spectators." He also said the Atlantic City Alliance was in discussions with at least one national network to broadcast the race.
Ed Salvato, the director of communications for the Atlantic City Alliance, which is hosting the event, wrote in an email that the agency was waiting for final approvals before announcing any details.
In Italy, Atlantic City's race has been received with mostly praise, although some of the contradas, Rossi wrote, resent Atlantic City's borrowing of the historic race, in part because a handful of Italian towns also attempt to hold other palio races.
Articles in Siena's newspapers have acquainted Italian readers with the beaches of Atlantic City and the battering the resort took in Hurricane Sandy, as well as the ongoing rivalry between the state's casinos and the horse-racing interests.
What does Atlantic City's Palio have in common with Siena? Practically nothing, Rossi wrote in the Corriere di Siena.
But Atlantic City planners have had respect for the original event, even if it is translated to a new environment, Rossi added.
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