Tuesday, August 17, 1999 Published at 07:41 GMT 08:41 UK
Blair's Tuscany horse race: Who, what & why?
Hot Ticket: Siena's controversial Palio race
Tony Blair's troubled Italian holiday, which has been dogged by controversy, has run into more grief because of his decision to go to Siena's Palio, a centuries-old horse race.
The Blair family's two-week holiday has already caused a stir, with complaints that Italian taxpayers would foot the bill and that a popular beach near their retreat had been closed for security reasons.
But what is the Palio, who takes part in it, and why is it so controversial?
What is the Palio?
The Palio dates back to the 14th Century and is a source of intense pride to the Sienese. Happily-married couples from different districts in Siena will sometimes live apart in the build-up to the event, because to live with a rival would test their loyalties too sorely.
Who is going?
Thousands of people. Spectators pour into the centre of the ring during the day, and there's hardly room to move. Those who prefer to view the race in comfort will have paid upward of £100 for a ringside ticket.
The Duchess of York and her friend, Count Gaddo della Gherardesca, were also reportedly invited.
Each district nominates a rider to compete in the 90-second dash, and the winning jockey is feted like a king. Even if a jockey falls off - not an uncommon occurrence - a riderless steed can still win.
Why the fuss?
Animal-rights campaigners say the race is barbaric - 38 horses have died since 1975, including two last year.
Because winning is everything in the Palio, pretty much anything goes - jockeys are bribed to sabotage another rider's chances, and frequent attempts are made to poison or injury a rival district's horse.