Mail On Sunday saves the Grand National from animal rights protesters

Mail On Sunday saves the Grand National! Hero race staff and police tackle militant animal rights protesters and arrest 118 after our undercover team tipped off authorities

  • Dozens of activists tried to disrupt the race, leading to a 12 minute delay to the start of the Grand National
  • Several horses fell during the race, with Hill Sixteen becoming the third to die this meet after a broken neck
  • Police arrested 118 people on suspicion of criminal damage and public nuisance offences on Saturday 

A plot to wreck the world’s favourite horse race was sensationally foiled by police yesterday thanks to an undercover exposé by The Mail on Sunday. 

Animal Rising protesters, an environmental and animal rights group, attempted to climb over fences to gain access to the grounds, as well as breaking onto the grass ahead of the race – only for them to be carted off to the delight of spectators. Merseyside police confirmed that 118 people were arrested.

Nine protesters managed to get on to the track, including two who attempted to glue themselves to one of the jumps, but were dragged away by police, aided by spectators.

The race was delayed by just 14 minutes, allowing Corach Rambler to storm ahead at the finish, ridden expertly by Irish jockey Derek Fox.  

The day of racing was marred by the deaths of two horses, including the ten-year-old gelding Hill Sixteen after taking a fatal fall on the first hurdle in the main steeplechase, bringing the total number of deaths for the three-day festival to three. 

At least two activists made it onto the racecourse and attempted to glue themselves to the second jump

Police rushed to the site and carried the two protesters from the jump, reportedly removing a small part of it in order to do so

A massive police response was triggered after two protesters made it onto the course

Police escort an animal rights activist from the scene of the racecourse after several attempted to glue themselves to a jump

A jubilant Lucinda Russell, Corach Rambler’s trainer, last night joined a chorus of racing legends, organisers and MPs who hailed the MoS’s investigation for saving the National – dubbed the People’s Race by broadcaster ITV.

‘I think The Mail on Sunday coverage was fantastic,’ she said. ‘Everyone was prepared. Thanks to the reporter who did it.’

Peter Scudamore, the eight-time champion jockey who also helped train the winning horse, added: ‘Racing should be grateful that The Mail On Sunday’s excellent journalism alerted us of the plans to disrupt the race.

‘It meant that the disruption could be kept to a minimum.’

Kevin Byram, a member of Aintree’s race committee, said: ‘Information like that obtained by The Mail on Sunday was of course very helpful. It was an exposé and it helped in the planning for the race.’

Merseyside Assistant Chief Constable Paul White said: ‘We had an ongoing operation in relation to this event. The information The Mail on Sunday was able to obtain certainly assisted the operation.’

Damian Green MP, acting chairman of the Commons culture select committee, added: ‘I am delighted that a great day for millions of people has been saved partly by the efforts of The Mail on Sunday.’

READ MORE HERE: The business guru turned eco-activist who plotted to wreck the Grand National

This newspaper exclusively revealed two weeks ago how activists from the campaign group Animal Rising, which was previously called Animal Rebellion, planned to use ladders and bolt cutters to storm security fences, then glue themselves together as a human barricade and sit across the course.

We discovered that ringleaders had already conducted two secret reconnaissance missions of the racecourse to pinpoint security weaknesses and were organising a network of safe houses to accommodate protesters before the race.

One of the plotters, former top financial journalist and business guru Jim Edwards, told our reporter that the protest would be the group’s biggest ever ‘spectacular’.

Our story, which went around the world, is believed to have led to Merseyside Police drawing up plans to ensure that the race went ahead.

Undercover officers mingled with racegoers in a bid to identify potential saboteurs, while other officers acted as ‘spotters’ on the roofs of spectator stands.

Before the main race began, the alleged ringleader of the protest, Rose Patterson, 33, was arrested in Greater Manchester by Merseyside Police, following the Mail on Sunday investigation. 

A 25-year-old woman from London and a man were also arrested outside the racecourse on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance.

The bid to wreck the Grand National began at about 5pm – 15 minutes before the start of the race – when dozens of activists wearing pink T-shirts attempted to storm the perimeter fence between the sixth jump – Becher’s Brook – and the seventh, Foinavon.

Video footage showed protesters with ladders trying to scale the fence as security guards and police rushed to the scene.

In a series of running battles, the zealots attempted to scale the fence while police officers pushed back their ladders or prised their hands off.

At one point, spectators joined the melee, helping police officers drag the ladders away.

One man named Steven, who declined to give his surname, saw the moment the mob swarmed towards the fence as he watched the race from outside the course with his wife Claire and grandchildren. ‘The undercover police told us to move further up the fence because there was a better view – now we realise it’s because they must have known where it was going to happen,’ he said.

‘We could see the activists jumping over with these massive wire cutters, they had ladders right up to the fence right next to us.

‘One of them got caught in the barbed wire, he must have been ripped to pieces.’

Claire added: ‘The police were shouting at them to get back and saying “stop or I’ll spray you”. The police were even asking everybody to help.’ 

At the same time, around ten saboteurs, who had bought tickets as spectators, rushed on to the track, with two attempting to glue themselves to the second jump.

A protester runs towards the exterior fence to break into the course

Police officers restrain several protesters who were foiled in their plan to enter Aintree

Police and race officials confiscate ladders which protesters attempted to use to get inside Aintree today

Protesters are detained outside the racecourse by police, wearing Animal Rising t-shirts

Two activists wearing pink T-shirts are arrested by police outside Aintree’s grounds during the attempted disruption

Handcuffed activists are guarded by police officers during the Grand National at Aintree

Quick-thinking security guards simply broke off the part of the fence the protesters had attached themselves to and dragged them off the track.

With police driving back multiple protesters, the Aintree authorities announced that the race had been delayed indefinitely.

In the parade ring, owners and trainers of the 39 runners looked on nervously as some of the horses became agitated and worked up by the delay.

Twenty-times champion jockey Sir AP McCoy lambasted the protesters as ‘attention seekers’.

‘I got into racing because I love horses,’ he said. ‘They have never been to stables. They have no real understanding of the horses – of how well they get looked after.’

But at around 5.15pm, with the police having arrested dozens of activists, a cheer resounded around the course as Sam Waley-Cohen, last year’s winning jockey, led the jockeys into the parade ring.

Racegoers later spoke of their relief that the race had been saved – and condemned the protesters.

Paul Jackson, 34, from Fazakerley, Liverpool, said: ‘We noticed the race was late and got a message saying it was protesters, but we didn’t see them.

‘If they’re doing stuff like that at a big event like this it’s going to bring a lot of attention – but there are ways and means, you don’t have to just make people hate you.

‘It’s not affected my day at all – losing money has.’

Mo Metcalf-Fisher, a spokesman for the Countryside Alliance, said: ‘The Mail on Sunday, who exposed this dangerous plot with plenty of time for the police to make appropriate counter plans, must be congratulated.’

But many racegoers didn’t notice the disruption. Christine Maybin, 29, from Antrim, Northern Ireland, at the races with Dwayne McGurk, 31, said: ‘We noticed the delay but we didn’t know it was because of protesters, we thought they were fixing the fences. We only noticed the protesters when we were coming in from the train.’

Mr McGurk said: ‘The delay didn’t affect us, we just got another drink in. We’ve had an unbelievable day here.’

Others in attendance expressed anger at the delay but most spectators were delighted when the race got underway.

Sarah McCaffrey, a shopworker and student – and one of those disrupting the track, said: ‘Whether it’s for food or for fun, our use of animals and nature is symbolic of a relationship beyond broken. 

‘We’re a nation of animal lovers, but the pain these beautiful creatures experience daily does not do that label justice. We need to find ways of loving animals that don’t hurt them.

There was a large police presence down by the racetrack at Aintree, in case of any disruption from activists

Members of the public applauded police officers from inside the course as they disrupted the protest

A man dressed in a suit is arrested after attempting to storm the Grand National

Members of the public attempt to pull protesters from the second fence

A woman who attempted to prevent the start of the race is arrested by police

Police officers were on high alert for any sign of protesters before the beginning of the race

‘I truly believe that we are a nation of animal lovers, every one of us. I know everyone coming to Aintree to view the races today would say they love the horses; however, the suffering experienced by them should shock us all. That’s why I’ve decided to put my body between those horses and death on the racecourse, rather than gamble with their lives.

‘An alternative to the way we stand in relation to non-human animals exists. We can all build a world and society that we are proud to be part of, rather than one plagued by suffering and hurt. An end to horse racing is a clear part of this kinder future.’ Dickon White, who runs Aintree Racecourse as North-West Regional Director for Jockey Club Racecourses, said:

‘There was a short delay to the start time for the Grand National, due to the reckless actions of a small number of individuals.

Now militant animal rights activists close the M57 motorway near Aintree by gluing themselves to road after ‘Animal Rising’ protesters masquerading as fans stormed the Grand National 

‘The Police and our security teams, who form part of a strong visible presence on course, dealt with the incident swiftly and decisively. The pre-race parade was cancelled as a result of the short delay.

‘The Randox Grand National Festival sees thousands of people come to enjoy racing and a great atmosphere, with millions following on television, radio and online.

‘While the actions of a small number of individuals were intended to disrupt the event, the safety and security of everyone on course will always be our number one priority.’

Ex-Tory MP Matt Hancock, who was not at Aintree, tweeted after watching the race: ‘What a race! Glad the attention-seeking protestors trying to ruin the #GrandNational completely failed.

‘Thanks to Merseyside Police and the Jockey Club for keeping people safe. A great result for wonderful British racing.’

In a statement Merseyside Police said: ‘Just after 5pm, a large number of protesters attempted to gain entry on to the course. The majority were prevented from breaching the boundary fencing, but the nine individuals who managed to enter the course were later arrested by officers.’

Merseyside Police Assistant Chief Constable Paul White said a total of 118 people have been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage and public nuisance offences. 

He said: ‘Today, as you’ve seen, there’s been a significant protest in relation to the running of the Grand National.

‘This began earlier this morning, there’s been a number of protests outside and then that resulted earlier on today at about 5pm with numerous people trying to incur onto the course, which we, in partnership with the event organisers, and members of the public as well, have managed in the main to stop and and ultimately the event took place – albeit with a slight delay.’

He said protesters tried to access the course from a number of points at the far side of the track.

ACC White continued: ‘There were significant numbers. What I can tell you is 118 people have been arrested today in relation to both criminal damage and public nuisance offences – and obviously we’ll process them.’

The officer added that the number included pre-emptive arrests before the race and arrests relating to the protest on the M57, where activists glued themselves to the carriageway.

North West Motorway Police said on Twitter: ‘We have a number of people sat on the M57 at junction 2 northbound – motorway is closed.’

National Highways said traffic was stopped in both directions on the motorway – between junctions one and two – shortly before 5.15pm, but by 6pm the southbound carriageway was reopened and northbound traffic was being diverted via a slip road.

There were delays of more than an hour on the road, which runs from the M62 to Aintree. Pictures showed protesters wearing pink T-shirts on the carriageway.

The winner of the Grand National was Corach Rambler, ridden by Derek Fox, at odds of 8-1. The horse is owned by a syndicate of seven and cost just £17,000. 

Derek Fox poses with the trophy after winning the Randox Grand National Handicap Chase on Corach Rambler

Corach Rambler ridden by Derek Fox wins the Randox Grand National on April 15, 2023

But distressing footage of the fatal fall of competitor Hill Sixteen during the race, which was shared by animal rights activists online, marred the celebrations of the winning syndicate. 

A Jockey Club spokesperson confirmed the death.

Several other jockeys also tumbled at the early stages but their horses continued. Two then left the main track but continued to run alongside the other steeds.

As the race went on, more horses stumbled over jumps. Two other horses were rushed away in horse ambulances with severe injuries.

After the conclusion of the race, Animal Rising posted a video of one of the jumps on social media which showed a horse crashing into the ground at high speed, before lying prostrate on the ground. This is believed to be of Hill Sixteen. Two jockeys were also unseated in the video, but appeared to be unhurt.

The organisation said: ‘THIS IS WHAT WE WERE TRYING TO STOP FROM HAPPENING. Several horses fell during this race – how many will be killed due to their injuries? Absolutely heartbreaking chaos for horses that never got a choice in the matter. MAKE SURE THE GRAND NATIONAL NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN.’

Three horses were put down following injuries at the course this weekend. Horse Dark Raven also died after racing on Saturday, the second death at the three-day festival after Envoye Special fell on Thursday.

The League Against Cruel Sports described the death toll at the Grand National Festival as ‘bleak’ following the deaths.

Emma Judd, head of campaigns and communications at the charity, said: ‘The tragic death of Dark Raven at the Randox Grand National Festival today – the second death in only three days – shows entertainment and gambling taking precedence over animal welfare and the lives of these horses.’

Animal Aid’s horse racing consultant Dene Stansall said: ‘Jump racing must be banned to prevent the brutal horrors seen today at Aintree and this week, from happening again. Innocent race horses’ lives takes from them in the name of entertainment and gambling. 

‘Aintree, the worst of all racecourses, is a disgrace and the Jockey Club and British racing should hang their heads in utter shame at what we have seen over the past three days.’ 

The League said the death toll at the Aintree Festival was now 62 horses since 2000 – with 16 killed in the Grand National. 

Four horses died during last year’s festival, with Discorama and Eclair Surf put down following injuries in the Grand National. 

Harry Skelton fell from Calico during a race, both the rider and horse were back up shortly after

Roi Mage ridden by Felix de Giles, Corach Rambler ridden by Derek Fox and Our Power ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies in action

The entrants prepare to begin racing at Aintree after a 14-minute delay to their scheduled race time

Aintree Racecourse confirmed that while racing in the sixth race, Hill Sixteen was immediately attended by expert veterinary professionals.

White said: ‘Hill Sixteen was immediately attended by expert veterinary professionals during the Grand National, but sadly sustained a fatal injury. Our heartfelt condolences are with his connections.’

‘Recite a Prayer and Cape Gentleman were assessed on course by veterinary teams in race six. Both horses walked onto the horse ambulance for further assessment in the stables. Further updates will be provided in due course.’

Trainer of winner Corach Rambler Lucinda Russell also took victory in 2017 with her horse One For Arthur.

Corach Rambler cost only £17,000, chicken feed in racing terms, and Russell admits she only agreed to buy him to ‘indulge’ her partner and assistant trainer Peter Scudamore, who had taken a shine to him at the sales.

Still, the successful purchase nearly never happened. Russell and Scudamore had to leave the sale and the bidding was left to Scudamore’s youngest son, Michael.

Read more: Undercover investigation exposes plan by up to 100 Animal Rebellion activists to storm the event and glue themselves to the course 

He forgot and, having gone for a cup of coffee, needed to make a mad dash back to the auction ring after taking a call from his motorway-bound father asking if he had secured Corach Rambler.

Luckily, Michael got there in time to lodge the successful bid, but Russell admits thoughts of Aintree and Cheltenham had never crossed her mind for the gelding.

She hoped he might win a few small chases at the northern tracks.

What Corach Rambler has achieved for the seven-strong syndicate — including a 21-year-old Edinburgh University student — who paid £3,000 each has far exceeded expectations.

The MoS revealed two weeks ago how militant vegans and animal rights campaigners planned to storm security fences before the race at Aintree, then glue themselves together as a human barricade and sit across the course.

Previously the police announced they would ‘robustly’ defend the races and its main event, which should have started at 5:15pm, from the militant vegans and animal rights campaigners.

A MoS undercover journalist secretly filmed as Patterson, 33, allegedly boasted that the stunt by the Animal Rising campaign group, which was previously known as Animal Rebellion, would have a worldwide impact. 

‘We have 600million people viewing this horse race worldwide, we’ve got £300million of bets on the horse race, and we’re just going to ruin it,’ she said. 

The MoS understands that Patterson was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance as she and other activists made their way to Aintree on Merseyside.

Sources at Animal Rising believe her arrest was linked to the MoS handing over a dossier of evidence to Merseyside Police. 

Crowds turned out to enjoy a day at the races despite fears of disruption. Racegoers made their way into Aintree Racecourse past about 50 protesters, holding Animal Rising banners and flags.

While videos posted online appear to show verbal clashes between protesters and attendees. 

Rose Patterson, 33, was arrested at the Grand National today after she was identified in a Mail on Sunday undercover exposé

Animal Rising spokesperson Claudia Penna Rojas was arrested by several officers outside Aintree Racecourse

Claudia Penna Rojas can be seen standing and speaking to police (left), before she employs the commonly used tactic going limp – requiring several officers to carry her away

Animal Rising protesters brought banners to display outside of Aintree Racecourse. Merseyside Police said they’d arrested 118 people at the races yesterday 

At around 2.35pm a group of Animal Rising supporters started slowly marching on the roads around Aintree Racecourse to disrupt access to the venue.

Animal Rising spokesperson Claudia Penna Rojas was pictured being carried away by four policemen outside Aintree Racecourse.

A video shows her talking to an officer and then sitting down and shaking her head.

The video then cuts to the activist refusing to stand up and walk, instead going limp so that several officers have to carry her away.

The surrounding activists cheered and clapped as she was carried away. 

She told Sky News on Saturday: ‘At some point we will peacefully and non-violently try to make our way to the track.’

Previous times the race was cancelled or delayed:

While the cancellation of races is an extremely rare occurrence, some have been known to be postponed since the Grand National first began in 1839.

The First World War:

During the First World War period, Aintree Racecourse was utilised by the War Office – meaning that the races did not go ahead as usual.

Instead, the event was moved to Gatwick Racecourse – now known as Gatwick Airport – during the years 1916, 1917 and 1918. 

These races were known by different names, the first one was the Racecourse Association Steeplechase, whilst the latter two were given the title of the War National Steeplechase.

The Second World War: 

Again, Aintree was commandeered during the Second World War.

However, this time the races were not hosted anywhere else like during the First World War and they were cancelled between 1941 and 1945.

The IRA bomb scare: 

While thousands travelled to Aintree for the big event in 1997, Merseyside Police received a phone call at 2.52pm from the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) informing them that a bomb had been planted at the Racecourse.

The call came three minutes after a call had been made informing police of another bomb in place at Aintree University Hospital in the Fazakerley district of the city. 

More than 60,000 people were made to leave as police evacuated the area. 

The event eventually took place two days later on April 7. 

The 1993 Race That Never Was:

This is another example of a Grand National that was not technically cancelled but also did not take place on its scheduled date.

It took place on the 3rd of April in 1993 and was intended to be the 147th running of the race. 

However, it was not able to count as an official running because a false start was declared, only for 30 of the 39 horses taking part to not realise and continued racing.

The reason it makes the list here is that the Jockey Club decided not to re-run the race at a later date, meaning that no race result is noted for the year 1993.

Source: Grand National Betting 

A press release from Animal Rising said that just 100 supporters had gathered outside the racecourse for the action.

Miss Penna Rojas said: ‘This summer Animal Rising will be taking action to protect animals from harm by openly rescuing them from factory farms and putting ourselves between these beautiful creatures and harm.’

Nathan McGovern, a spokesman for the group, said: ‘The arrest of Rose Patterson shows that the police are more concerned with arresting peaceful protesters than telling the world about the climate, nature, and animal crisis.’

Patterson, who joined Animal Rebellion in 2020 and now masterminds the group’s protests, released a video on Instagram last week announcing the group’s name change.

The animal activist group announced their intention to stop the races going ahead online after a rebranding effort 

Police said they respect the right to peaceful protest, but stated ‘criminal offences will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly’. Pictured: outside Aintree Racecourse today

Animal Rising have vowed that their ‘biggest action yet’ will ‘cancel the Grand National’ at Aintree Racecourse

Jim Edwards (pictured), the former founding editor of the UK website of Business Insider, is involved with militant Animal Rising (formerly Animal Rebellion)

‘We feel that the change we need will come through our connection with animals by challenging those industries that exploit them, from our food system to animal testing to zoos to horse racing,’ she said.

‘Our actions this year are going to be bigger than ever. This summer will be the summer of Animal Rising. We’ll be doing open rescues, farm factory occupations and highly disruptive mass-participation actions.’

Earlier last week, Animal Rising claimed that up to 300 activists would try to prevent the Grand National from starting, with some expected to block traffic by performing a slow march along Ormskirk Road, the main access route.

Around 80 protesters gathered outside the racecourse’s entrance on Saturday morning. By midday one man and one woman had been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a public nuisance.

Some activists chanted at race-goers entering the course: ‘Shame on you.’

Dora Hargitai, 37, a volunteer with the group, said: ‘I do believe we can have non-violence on both sides. The race has to stop. Today and for ever.’

The MoS investigation earlier this month revealed how ringleaders had already conducted two secret reconnaissance missions of the racecourse to pinpoint security weaknesses and how a network of safe houses was being arranged to accommodate protesters before the race.

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