People: Zeffirelli's fury at the dangers of horseplay

THE Italians may not be known as a nation of animal lovers, but they are outraged by the deaths of three horses in this year's Palio in Siena.

Franco Zeffirelli, the film director, has demanded radical changes to the race, staged in Siena's town square - a terrifying, sloping circuit infamous for its sharp corners.

Jasmine, a nine-year-old mare, had to be put down after damaging herself in a qualifying race, and television viewers were horrified to see two other thoroughbreds, Pinturetta and Way to Sky, splinter bones as they fell during the race itself.

Some 40 animals have died in the past 25 years, and critics say the toll is rising because of the use of thoroughbreds, which are faster but more fragile than the locally-bred Maremma horse. The irony is that the Sienese say they love their horses. Pride of place at the celebratory supper after a Palio goes to the equine champion. The problem is that a huge amount in bets and prizes is at stake.

'I don't say abolish the Palio, but we must have new rules, introduce anti-doping, ban thoroughbreds because there is no need to go so fast,' said Zeffirelli. 'I will take this to the European Court, raise the case all around the world.'

STILL on our four-legged friends, it's bad news for the bulls. The legendary torero El Cordobes - Manuel Benitez - returned to the arena at the weekend at the age of 57.

He won an ovation and a (bull's) ear at Saint-Vincent-de-Tyrosse, south-west France. Though slower than when he retired eight years ago he had lost none of his flair.

IF YOU think Sienese racehorses have it bad, at least they don't have to put up with the kind of abuse allegedly suffered by Filipino runners. About 100 athletes, led by South- East Asia's sprint queen, Lydia de Vega, marched to the presidential palace in Manila yesterday, accusing sports officials of physical abuse and sexual harassment.

Catherine Chua, a 15-year-old diver, told President Fidel Ramos that a sports commissioner kissed her after offering her dollars 50 (pounds 30) when she saw him at his office. The commissioner desisted when a visitor arrived, she said.

JUSTICE has finally caught up with Paulo Cesar Farias, the man who allegedly handled the money for Brazil's disgraced former president, Fernando Collor de Mello. PC, as he is known, had twice avoided arrest on corruption charges, thanks to a supreme court judge, but the campaigning public prosecutor, Aristides Junqueira, has nailed him by resorting to the Al Capone stratagem: charge him with tax evasion.

Not quite nailed: when a judge in Brasilia ordered his arrest, PC went underground and is believed to be negotiating surrender terms. He has a horror of being handcuffed or photographed and will only give himself up if absolute discretion is guaranteed. He also insists there should be no bars on his cell window.

(Photograph omitted)