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The Origins of Italian horseracing

The long story that sees the thoroughbreds as protagonists at Barbaricina and San Rossore is filtered by the presence and the role played by the horseracing organization Alfea in over a century of existence. A little information about its history can be useful to explain, though in an extremely simplified version, the activity of the racetrack itself and of the training center. After Leopold II of Lorraine had ordered in 1829 that the Escoli course be traced and after there had been, in the years immediately following, a migration of thoroughbred horses from Lucca and Florence in view of a season of races, the 18th of August 1853 a request to form an “organization for horse races” was presented to the authorities. The regulations of the new organization were written following those of similar organizations already active in Italy in the cities of Florence and Turin. Among the objects of the new organization there was the desire to “create with the horse races an improvement of the economic situation in Pisa which would benefit all of those involved”. In truth, in the past as well as today, the intentions were the same, since it must be said that, at present, the horseracing activities in Pisa represent an important economic boost for the city itself.

The request signed by the marquee Cesare Mastiani Sciamanna was also undersigned by the most influential sports persons of the times from the Marquee Costabili to Prince Demidoff, from the Baron of Lowemberg to Prince Poniatowski. The approval of the new horseracing organization arrived eight days later: The subscribers were 62 and each share was worth 100 italian lire. The first President to install himself in the offices of Piazza San Nicola was Vittorio Papanti, and the first exploit of the new society was to organize a horse meeting. The event took place on April 3rd 1854 and had a great following both in the city itself and in the entire Tuscan Region to such an extent that the “Società della Strada Ferrata” the railway of the times, organized a special service which left Lucca at 11 and returned from Pisa at 7 p.m.. The new racetrack had two grandstands, both made of pine wood: one was reserved to the public, the other to the authorities and to the music band while the ground floor was for the organization.

If at the beginning of the horseracing activity in Pisa there was an anonymous “Society for horseracing” the name Alfea, still used today, appeared in 1891 when horseracing sportsmen among which the trainer Thomas Rook, Count Scheiber, the royal veterinary surgeon Giacinto Fogliata created a new group in opposition to the already existing one. The name of the new association was “National Society for autumn horseracing in Pisa” and included horseracing personages from all over Italy. The date of its birth was September 30th 1891 with the emission of 200 shares worth 25 italian lire each. The competition between the two groups went on a few more years until in 1898 there was a fusion between the two which united under the common name Alfea.

It is at the turn of the century that horseracing activities at Barbaricina and San Rossore are at their maximum thanks to the presence of the most important Italian stables and to the efficiency of the race tracks that the Jockey Club has by now officially recognized (1896) as a “National Training Center”. The excellent permeability of the grounds, the mild climate, the presence of field grounds and the central geographical position of Barbaricina contribute in making Barbaricina the “Village of Horses”. An agreement with the Royal House permits all horse racing activities to take place freely with the only rule that “all horses must interrupt their galloping at the passing of all Royal Highnesses”. A rule that in truth was never put into effect. In the period between the two world wars grand residential facilities linked to horseracing are built at Barbaricina as the middle of the century approaches.

From 1943 to 1945 Barbaricina and San Rossore were badly bombed causing the destruction of both stables and courses. The reconstruction was difficult and took place thanks to the involvement of a few among which the name of Federico Regoli, leading trainer of Italian gallop, must be remembered. In 1945, just before Christmas, a group of enthusiasts gives birth to the new Alfea: shares cost 500 lire and the subscribers are 102 and the first president of the this new society is Roberto Supino. From that moment the society undergoes transformation after transformation which in the end lead to the acquisition of the group by the “Cassa di Risparmio di Pisa”. In 1957, when Ribot has already won the Premio Pisa (1955) the new grandstands, which are still present today, are inaugurated. In the middle of the seventies, with the presence of Harry Bracci Torsi, the wintering center is gradually transformed into a year round training center and the number of horses in loco increases up to the 10400 now present during the race season. A new impulse to horseracing in Pisa is given by renewed conventions with the Italian Presidency involving the training and the race courses. In our times the “Cassa di Risparmio di Pisa” is obliged by the “Banca d’Italia” to give up its ownership of Alfea; as a result a group of enthusiasts from Pisa decides to buy the shares belonging to the Savings bank and with great financial commitment Alfea remains a city enterprise. The ever growing interest in horseracing in Pisa must be tied to the more general conditions of horseracing in all of Italy. There is the necessity to render the training center more adequate to the higher technical level now required and to better the race course placing the San Rossore circuit among those of the great national circuit. With this in mind, and thinking in particular of the future of horseracing in Pisa, a new agreement with the Tuscan region has been reached.

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