Fighting for a Piece of Cloth

Kathleen, the kids and I recently returned from a really wonderful trip to Italy that we’ve been planning for years. We had a lot of great food. Saw a lot of cool stuff. But the coolest thing I did while I was there was attending what is known as “Il Palio.”

If you’ve never heard of this event, it’s a horse race that takes place in the main piazza in Siena every year. And let me tell you… It’s an EVENT.

(If you’ve seen the 2008 James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace,” there’s a sequence near the beginning with 007 doing his spy stuff while the race is going on around him.)

They’ve held the Palio since 1482. Yeah. A long time. And it’s still as medieval as its origins.


On this small, unlevel, crowded, hair-pin-turn course, the jockeys and horses literally have no rules. It’s not uncommon to see the jockeys hitting each other or trying to knock opponents off their horses. It’s dangerous.

After the winning horse crossed the finish line this year, a throng of spectators jumped onto the track to congratulate the winner — while the other horses were still running, mind you. Sam (my son, who went with me to the race) noticed a puddle of blood on the course as we were crossing it to leave. (Horse blood? Jockey blood? From a spectator?)

And, yes, it could have been from a spectator. It’s also not uncommon to see fights break out during or after the race. The Sienese are passionate about the Palio. 

Which brings me to why it’s run…

So, there are 17 “contrade” in Siena. A contrada basically translates to a ward or neighborhood. And through a long, convoluted Italian process, 10 of the contrade each year compete running a horse in the race. (The next year the other 7 compete and 3 from the previous year.)

There is pageantry. There are colors proudly worn. There’s bribery. Oh yes, bribery. And cheating, too. To win the Palio is a big deal for these folks. They literally refer to married couples from different contrade as being in “mixed marriages.” I kid you not.

When Sam and I were walking out, there was, legit, an angry crowd of men all wearing red who looked like they were going to find someone and kick his ass. (Sam and I moved to the side of the street and let them pass.) I can only assume this was the contrada with the horse that got disqualified. Yeah. That happens too.

In fact, there was a Palio recently in which a contrada paid a jockey €1.5 million to ride their horse to hopeful victory. (Yes, they literally hire professional jockeys to compete in this race.) They spare no expense.

And all this passion, money and high emotions are for one thing…

A piece of cloth.

To be fair, it’s silk. And it’s hand-painted by an artist each year. But hey, man. It’s a piece of cloth.

(So, yeah. To be clear, a contrada paid €1.5 million for a jockey they hoped would be good enough to win this little banner of cloth.)

There is no cash prize. Second place does not even get you a set of steak knives. Just the Palio / cloth banner.

But what else would you really want? If there were money involved for the prize, there would not be the same passion. There would not be the same pride. It would be different.

There is great power in striving for something out of pure desire to win and nothing else.

Take trading, for example.

Trading to Win

The best traders don’t trade to make money. 

(OK. That’s a bold statement, but I stand by it.)

Trading is always about winning. Beating the market. Outsmarting the smart. And the pride of having done so.

When it comes to option trading, I like to think of money as simply the points in the game. That’s how you measure yourself up. Forget that it has transactional value, storage of wealth, that you can buy stuff with it. In trading, money is just how you prove (to yourself) how good you are at this game.

I find when traders focus on money, it clouds judgment. Those traders tend to not trade as well. Too much fear. Too much greed. Too much emotional involvement.

Whoever said “Winning isn’t everything” was a loser. (OK. I know that’s harsh, but, well…)

It just feels good to win. And that is the best motivation there is. It keeps you moving forward. Caring. Not getting discouraged. It keeps you on your toes. It keeps you passionate.

That’s what I see in our best student traders. Stay passionate. Play to win. And by all means, rack up some points.

Dan Passarelli
Founder and President
Market Taker Mentoring, Inc.

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