Horse Racing in Palermo Suspended
Horse racing has been suspended at the Ippodromo La Favorita racetrack in Palermo because Mafia links have been uncovered. No surprise there then!
The police have found that Mafia bosses have been rigging races at the track in Sicily and that illegal gambling had been taking place. They arrested 25 people in December as the extent of Mafia involvement became apparent. The management company who run the racetrack has been stripped of its tender and all racing has ceased.
[caption id="attachment_1830" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Palermo, Sicily[/caption]
Mafia Boss Controls Jockeys
One of the most frequent race-goers at the track was the boss of the Resuttana clan, Giovanni Niosi, who owned some of the horses that raced there. He liked to surround himself with jockeys who often asked for favours and money. There have been reports that the Mafia ordered the jockeys to lose races, and if they refused the Mafia would beat them until they agreed to comply.
Sicilian Street Racing
Street racing is also a serious problem in Sicily. The races are illegal and often involve drugged and cruelly treated horses. Riders force the horses to run to the point of exhaustion. The Mafia control these street races and the associated gambling. Since 1998, the police have confiscated 1275 horses after they competed in these races.
Street races in Palermo, the capital of Sicily, are generally occur at dawn on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays when the streets are quiet. Dozens of men riding scooters follow the competing horses along the 2km course. Videos of the events are later uploaded to YouTube.
Sadly, accidents during the races are common occurrences. There have been many cases of people finding dead horses in the streets. In 2012 someone found a horse dead in front of the university. It appeared that the poor animal had crashed headlong into a pole during a race. Any animals that have injuries are of no further use to the race operators and so are generally sent to slaughter for their meat. But most of these animals have been drugged and so their meat may pose a risk to people.
Some horses with injuries escape such a terrible fate as the owners use them for breeding. A champions semen can attract huge price tags on the black market.
In the 90s, police in Naples seized an entire racetrack along with more than 40 horses from the Camorra boss Lorenzo Nuvoletta. He had also built an artificial insemination laboratory for breeding specimens. He would then sell these illegally.
Most participants in the illegal street racing cannot afford proper facilities for their horses and so keep them in garages or disused buildings in the cities. This form of stabling doesn’t tend to have any drainage and they tether the horses to the walls. The authorities believe that there are more than 300 illegal stables hidden around Palermo.
The street races have both a financial and political benefit for the Mafia bosses. Racing is certainly big business but also enables the Mafia to provide entertainment for the people in the neighbourhood that they control.