Grand National organisers have called on activist group Animal Rising to rethink their protest plans for Saturday’s race amid fears they could endanger horses, jockeys and officials by trying to stop the event.

Animal Rising have told i they are already expecting more than 300 people to protest outside Aintree this weekend from 9.30am, with plans also in place to stop the 5.15pm race going ahead.

But organisers say they fear their efforts could do more harm than good to the animals they are trying to protect.

A spokesperson for The Jockey Club, which runs Aintree Racecourse, told i: “We are crystal clear that putting the care and safety of our horses above all else is our number one priority at Aintree and as a sport.

“Racehorses are our athletes and receive the best care available in order to perform at their best. Everyone in this industry is involved because they love horses, and they work tirelessly to care for them every day.

“We are constantly improving and have invested millions of pounds to make sure our athletes are healthy and happy.

“We respect the right for peaceful protest but sincerely hope that Animal Rising reflect on whether their proposed actions are a legitimate and responsible form of protest. Their actions could endanger the horses they purport to protect, as well as jockeys, officials and themselves.”

The race was first run in 1839 and has often been a target for protesters as the highest-profile jump race in the world.

The Jockey Club would not comment on security arrangements for this year’s event but Merseyside Police have said they have a “robust” policing plan in place.

In 1993, the start to the National was delayed when 15 protesters had to be removed from the course.

A chaotic start eventually saw the race voided altogether and bookies were forced to hand back around £75m in bets, a figure that industry sources say would be closer to £300m this year if Animal Rising are successful in their sabotage.

Jockey Martin Foster leaves the track after the aborted Grand National race at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool, 3rd April 1993. The race was declared void after 30 of the 39 runners began racing despite a false start. Foster and his horse, Paco's Boy, fell at fence 20. (Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images)
The 1993 Grand National was eventually voided after protests and two false starts (Photo: Getty)

“Everything we do is non-violent, and we’re all obviously very peaceful but we are hoping to find a way to disrupt the race so the race itself does not start,” Animal Rising spokesperson Alex Lockwood told i.

Exact plans are a closely guarded secret, but the group, who were previously known as Animal Rebellion until a rebrand this week, have previously deployed sit-in tactics to protest against the exploitation of animals at places such as supermarkets and restaurants.

“This is all a part of our campaign this summer to turn the spotlight on our treatment of animals,” Lockwood added.

“We believe that the way that we exploit other animals for entertainment or for food is right at the heart of our nature crisis or climate crisis.

“The world is watching the Grand National – and we understand that it’s a national institution. But it’s also a national institution that harms animals and and it’s emblematic of our broken relationship with other beings and the natural world.”

According to the British Horse Racing Authority, 169 horses died in the course of racing last year, two coming in the Grand National itself as Eclair Surf and Discorama were both put down in the aftermath, which is why Animal Rising want the sport banned entirely.

“We’ve seen legislation at least on paper bring an end to fox hunting. We no longer have dog fighting or bear baiting. We no longer have these industries for exploiting animals. And they were generally legislated out of existence, or they just fell foul of public scrutiny,” Lockwood said.

“We’re not interested in improving the welfare. That is the line that the industry comes out with and yet we still have one horse die every other day in horse racing and that’s just on the track. We believe that no animals should be used or exploited.”

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