Grand National race delayed after activists get onto track

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — The Grand National, one of the world’s most famous horse races, was delayed Saturday after animal rights activists scaled fences around the perimeter of Aintree racecourse and got onto the track.

The developments came after three people were arrested in connection with a plan by the activists to disrupt the race. All three were arrested on “suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance,” Merseyside Police said.

Members of the police forces remove a protester before the start of the Grand National horse race at Aintree Racecourse Liverpool, England, Saturday, April 15, 2023. The iconic Grand National race which is run over fences is 4 miles, 2 ½ furlongs has its origins in the 1839 Grand Liverpool Steeplechase.(AP Photo/Jon Super)

Some of the activists from an estimated group of 300 climbed the high fences around the racecourse and got onto the track a few minutes before the race was scheduled to start, apparently attempting to handcuff themselves to the obstacles.

Police and security officials were seen stopping other activists and shaking the perimeter fences to prevent others mounting them.

The race was delayed as a result and the 39 horses were kept in the parade ring. It was originally scheduled to begin at 5:15 p.m. local time (1615 GMT).

A 25-year-old woman and a man were arrested while protesting outside the racecourse near Liverpool, where the famous steeplechase takes place. Earlier Saturday, a 33-year-old woman was arrested in the Greater Manchester area “in connection with potential coordinated disruption activities” at Aintree, police said. Their names were not disclosed.

Animal Rising had called on protesters to gather outside the racecourse to demand an end to “animal cruelty for entertainment.” The group tweeted a video that it said shows one of its spokespeople being arrested at the protest.

Police said they have been working with race organizers ahead of and during the Grand National Festival, which started Thursday.

“We are aware of some people planning to protest at the event,” a police spokesperson said in a statement. “This has been factored into our plans. We respect the right to peaceful protest and expression of views, but criminal behavior and disorder will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly.”

Animal Rising activist Alex Lockwood this week told British radio station talkSPORT that they planned to disrupt the Grand National, arguing that standing outside and handing out fliers “never stopped anything.”

Further inflaming matters was the news that a horse — Dark Raven — died in a race at Aintree on Saturday. On Thursday, another horse — Envoye Special — suffered a fatal injury in the Foxhunters’ Chase, which is run over the fences used for the Grand National.

“This horrific ‘sport’ continues to take lives right in front of our eyes. It’s time to BAN this horrific industry,” Animal Rising wrote in response to Dark Raven’s death.

The Grand National is among the biggest occasions on the British sporting calendar and is regarded as one of the most dangerous horse races in the world because of the size of the fences.
Changes were made in 2012 to make the course safer, including softening some of the fences, after two horses died in the Grand National that year and in 2011.

There have been four fatalities from 356 runners in the nine Grand Nationals since. Four horses died at the Aintree festival last year, including two who were injured in the Grand National.

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