Aintree racecourse is preparing to face the most significant and potentially disruptive protests against the Grand National for many years on Saturday, when the campaign group Animal Rising plans to employ tactics used by Just Stop Oil protesters in recent months in an attempt to prevent the world’s most famous steeplechase from going ahead.
The group are aiming to have 300 protesters storm the track in a bid to prevent the race – which is due off at 5.15pm BST – from taking place.
It is 30 years since the Grand National was declared void for the only time in its 184-year history, when serious flaws in the starting and recall procedures were aggravated by a delay to the start as a small group of protesters were removed from the track.
Animal Aid has staged a small protest outside Aintree station in subsequent years, which is also expected to go ahead on Saturday, but Animal Rising aims to cause more widespread disruption both around and possibly inside the racecourse.
“We plan on using the slow-march tactics that Just Stop Oil have used in recent months to obstruct the access road to Aintree throughout the morning,” Nathan McGovern, a spokesperson for Animal Rising, said on Friday.
“As we get towards the Grand National race itself, we plan on some 300-plus people to peacefully make their way towards the entrances to Aintree, towards the fences and walls at the front of the racecourse, to attempt to make their way over and through and eventually on to the track before the Grand National begins, to prevent the race from starting.”
McGovern said that Animal Rising’s protest at Aintree will be the first of a series of actions over the summer months.
“Animal Rising plan on similar disruption to other large events in the animal so-called sports calendar,” McGovern said, “alongside rescuing animals openly and handing ourselves in afterwards, from factory farms for example.
“In terms of people who’ve taken action with us over the last year, arrestable action specifically, it [Animal Rising’s membership] is 400 to 500, and in the past three weeks we’ve trained around a further 500 people in non-violent direct action.”
Aintree racecourse was forewarned of the possible return of protest action to the course by an undercover investigation in the Mail on Sunday this month, and all possible routes for a forced entry around the extensive perimeter of the track are likely to have been the subject of close scrutiny by security teams.
A spokesperson for Aintree racecourse said on Friday: “We respect the right to peaceful protest but sincerely hope that Animal Rising reflect on whether their proposed actions are legitimate and responsible.
“Their actions could endanger the horses they purport to protect, as well as jockeys, officials and themselves.
“As you would expect we are working closely with Merseyside Police to ensure we protect the safety and enjoyment of everyone, including all participants, human or equine, at the Grand National.”
A spokesperson for Merseyside Police said: “Merseyside Police is working with The Jockey Club and other partners to keep people safe during the Grand National Festival
“We are aware of some people planning to protest at the event. This has been factored into our plans. We respect the right to peaceful protest and expression of views but criminal behaviour and disorder will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly.”
A peak audience of 7.5m viewers on ITV watched Sam Waley-Cohen win the 2022 Grand National on Noble Yeats, while millions more will watch the race around the world. A sell-out crowd of 70,000 is expected at Aintree itself for Saturday’s race, which was first run in 1839, and its overall value to racing, the betting industry and the local economy has been estimated as £0.5bn.
The Grand National is also the most popular betting race of the year by far with the British public, and bookmakers were estimated to have lost out on around £400m in turnover when the Grand National meeting was abandoned in April 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.