Mr Blair, who was criticised for accepting free hospitality at a publicly owned villa near Pisa and depriving locals of access to the beach, was attacked by animal rights activists two years ago for watching the heats of the Palio. This year, according to Siena's town council, he will attend the event itself, but not in an official capacity. A council spokesman said the Blairs, their children - who are reported to have urged their father to let them attend - and friends are expected to view the colourful 90-second race from a terrace of one of the Sienese nobility, overlooking the town's central piazza, the Campo.
The race is considered cruel because the thoroughbreds used are too fragile to deal with the savage bends and sharp turns. Since 1970, 43 horses have had to be put down during or after the race. This year the organisers have introduced new PVC safety barriers, similar to those used in Formula One racing.