Racegoers enjoy Aintree despite criticism from animal rights groups

By Eleanor Barlow, PA

Racegoers are enjoying a day out at Aintree despite criticism of the Grand National from animal rights protesters who delayed last year’s race.

About 80,000 people are expected at the Liverpool racecourse to see the world-famous steeplechase on the final day of the Randox Grand National Festival.

Group Animal Rising has said it will not disrupt this year’s race, after the last National was delayed when protesters got onto the course, leading to more than 100 arrests.

Five protesters from Animal Aid held cardboard placards outside the entrance to the racecourse on Saturday, but their presence did not seem to impact the atmosphere.

Randox Grand National 2024 – Grand National Day – Aintree Racecourse
Horse Minella Times during the parade of champions on day three of the 2024 Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool (David Davies for the Jockey Club/PA) Photo by David Davies for The Jockey Club

Bill Taylor, 77, who was at the racecourse on his great-nephew’s stag do, said: “It’s iconic isn’t it? It’s on my bucket list and here I am. I can’t believe it, what an occasion."

Randox Grand National 2024 – Grand National Day – Aintree Racecourse
Racegoers take a selfie on day three of the 2024 Randox Grand National Festival at Aintree Racecourse, Liverpool (Mike Egerton/PA) Photo by Mike Egerton

The Grand National is due to be held at the earlier time of 4pm, which organisers hope will “ensure optimal conditions” on the track.

Other changes include a reduced field of 34 horses, down from 40, a standing start, a reduction in height to one of the fences and added foam and rubber toe boards on every fence.

The Jockey Club has previously said changes to the race were not made as a consequence of the protests.

A spokesman for Aintree Racecourse said: “We conduct an evidence-based review process after every Grand National which looks at all aspects of the race.

“The changes that we announced last year are data-driven and the result of a detailed assessment of recent Grand Nationals and the analysis of trends and statistics relating to the race over many years.”

In an email said to have been sent to Jockey Club chief executive Nevin Truesdale, Animal Rising co-founder Dan Kidby wrote: “Animal Rising’s actions last year shone a spotlight on the deaths that happen during the Grand National Festival.

“This light continues to shine and we don’t believe disruption is needed to draw attention to this again.

“Horses have died almost every single year at the Grand National; the safest bet one could make is that a horse would die.

“This continues to be the case in spite of rule changes, which are nothing more than a PR exercise to try to win back public opinion.”

At Ladies Day on Friday the first race of the day saw horse Giovinco fall at the final fence and suffer a fatal injury, while in the last race of the day Pikar suffered a heavy fall and organisers confirmed the injuries were fatal.