On Saturday, a group of animal rights activists disrupted the Grand National horse race at Aintree, resulting in the arrest of 23 people and causing a delay in the start of the race by nearly 15 minutes. The protesters, wearing pink t-shirts and plain clothes, attempted to breach the perimeter fence or gates near Becher’s Brook and the Canal Turn. Some used ladders to climb over the fence, which were confiscated by police and security staff, while others tried to climb over unaided.
Merseyside Police reported that “the majority” of the protesters were prevented from entering the racecourse, but nine individuals managed to make it onto the track. Some of them glued themselves to the second fence, while others tried to shackle themselves to the running rail by the Canal Turn. The police, in cooperation with the Jockey Club and other partners, had anticipated the possibility of protests and stated that while peaceful protest and expression of views were respected, criminal behavior and disorder would not be tolerated and would be dealt with robustly.
Prior to the race, a 33-year-old woman from London was arrested in Greater Manchester on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance in relation to the Grand National. By 6:30 pm on Saturday, a total of 23 people had been arrested before and during the racing event. Aintree confirmed that two horses, Cape Gentleman and Recite A Prayer, were taken for further veterinary inspection after the race, while Hill Sixteen was put down after falling at the first fence, with a video of the incident posted online by the animal rights group.
The actions of the protesters were condemned by prominent figures within the racing community. Grand National-winning jockey Sir Anthony McCoy labeled them “attention seekers,” and Sandy Thomson, whose horse Hill Sixteen suffered a fatal fall during the race, expressed that they “haven’t a bloody clue what they’re doing.” Other jockeys, trainers, and owners also expressed frustration at the disruption caused by the protesters, with concerns raised about the impact on horse welfare and the delay causing horses to walk around the parade area repeatedly.
Animal rights activists had expressed their intention to protest at this year’s Grand National in the lead-up to the event. In addition to protesting outside the racecourse, some activists had outlined plans to bypass security and potentially disrupt the race by creating human barriers. Orla Coghlan, a spokeswoman for the animal rights group Animal Rising, which also blocked the M57 motorway in Liverpool on Saturday, stated that “Today marks not the end, but the beginning, of the summer of Animal Rising. We will be defending animals and nature and creating an unignorable national conversation about our relationship to animals and the natural world.”