Alba is a town of 30,000 people that is well known for white truffles and Barolo wine. But why do they have--of all things--a donkey Palio instead of a horse Palio? Well, there is a 100 year old rivalry between old grudge with Asti, a town only 20 miles away. Apparently, in 1932, Alba was not allowed to enter the Palio in Asti, a race held since the 1200s. Ok, we'll get back at them, they thought... and did, by organizing their own donkey races. In Italy, the words ciucio, asino or somaro all mean jackass, donkey... or stupid. In this way they poked great fun at the Asti horse races.
In the other races, the horses are wild and muscular and full of speed, while macho men cling to their backs and get close to death or serious injury... it's all very exciting and spectacular. But in Alba the stubborn donkeys run--sometimes--but mostly bump into things, throw their riders, roam around aimlessly, turn in circles, walk backwards or suddenly stop altogether while their riders kick, swear, beg, cry, pull, tug and push in attempts to get them going again.
There are actually very strict regulations to protect the donkeys used in the races--all female, by the way (a statement about Italian female stubbornness, perhaps?) They also have microchips embedded and riders are given donkeys randomly by drawing to prevent any advantage over another particularly stubborn beast. Jockeys aren't allowed to do anything that might hurt the donkeys—including whips, spiked shoes and bits—all of which are banned. The animals have veterinarians at the race for a physical exam before the race and after. Judges have keen eyes and will immediately disqualify riders who use sharp objects to poke the donkeys into giving them a burst of speed. Riders can get hurt too with kids but also from the course coats on the donkeys' backs.... most wear padded bike shorts to prevent chafing and cuts.
The Donkey's race takes place during the International Fair of the White Truffle of Alba. The city of Alba lies in the heart of Langhe e Roero area in the Piedmont Region, where some of the finest and well-known Italian wines are produced. Besides wine and truffles other specialties are hazelnuts, cheese and chocolate. The city of Alba is divided into nine historical borghi (districts) that compete to seize a painted drape, the so-called Palio, through the donkey race. On the day of the Palio more than 1000 people dressed in colorfull medieval costumes and stroll around the city portraying ladies, knights, peasants and jesters. The riders and donkeys don't get a chance to be familiar with each other because of the random drawing that matches rider to beast. This silly race is three laps long with lots of excitement and fun for all ages.
Alba International White Truffle Fair
Oct 11 - Nov 15, 2015 Alba, Italy
The donkey race is held on the first Sunday in October of the festival.
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