The 50th anniversary of the Grand National might be disrupted as activist group Animal Rebellion plan protest action.

Fear of protests and disruption by animal rights activists has returned to threaten the Grand National at Aintree after an undercover investigation by the Mail on Sunday appeared to reveal a plot by “up to 100” protesters to break into the course and glue themselves to the track before the big race on 15 April.

The newspaper’s investigation filmed a “training” session for 11 activists from the group Animal Rebellion, which suggested that its leaders had identified weak points around Aintree’s perimeter, where protesters could gain access using ladders or bolt cutters. The organisers also claimed that “safe houses” had been arranged for activists to stay on the night before the race, as well as a “fleet” of minibuses to take them to the racecourse.

The Grand National is one of the world’s most famous and historic races. It was first run over its current course – which includes such celebrated obstacles as Becher’s Brook, the Chair and the Canal Turn – in 1839, and has a potential global audience that runs to hundreds of millions of viewers.

The race this year will mark the 50th anniversary of the three-time winner Red Rum’s first success in 1973, while the victory of Rachael Blackmore on Minella Times in 2021, the first for a female jockey, was also a huge PR coup for the race.

However, 15 of the 875 horses – 1.7%, or 1 in 58 – to line up for the Grand National since 2000 have sustained a fatal injury during the race, making it a focus for protests by animal rights activists who are campaigning for a ban on all horse racing.

The race was declared void in 1993, in part because of confusion caused by a protest that led to two false starts, but in recent years protesters have been limited to a site near the main entrance.

In one clip from the undercover report, a voice is heard talking about the activists’ plan, saying: “There are like 100 of you now at the fence. You get the ladders out. Put them up against the fence and you’re the first one over. You start climbing that fence and you see security on the other side. You don’t care. You know you’re doing the right thing.”

An Animal Rebellion member is also seen saying: “[It’s] the biggest horse race in the world. We have 600 million people viewing this horse race worldwide, we’ve got £300m of bets on the horse race and we’re just going to ruin it.”

Jockey Club Racecourses, which runs Aintree, does not comment on issues relating to security, but a statement by Merseyside police on Sunday said that “robust” plans are in place to prevent disruption to the race.

A spokesperson for the force said: “Merseyside police has a robust policing plan in place for Aintree, as it does for any major public event, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved. “We have been working with our partners, including the Jockey Club, for a number of months in the buildup to this year’s [Aintree] festival to ensure that any necessary plans and processes are in place to deal with any incidents that may arise, and to prevent any significant or ongoing disruption to racegoers and local residents and businesses. We respect the right to peaceful protest and expression of views, but public order or criminal offences will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly.”

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com