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AINTREE SABOTAGE FEAR AS ANIMAL RIGHTS HARDLINERS WAGE CYBER WAR ON NATIONAL
Posted 1 March 2001
This article appeared in The Mirror, Tuesday 27th March 2001 as a result of our Horse Racing Awareness Week campaign.
Security for next week's Grand National meeting will be at an all-time high after animal rights activists began a campaign to discredit the world's greatest race.
The UK's largest group - Animal Aid - yesterday announced they were using the internet to stoke up opposition to the National. And fears at Aintree are growing that it could spark militant animal groups into more direct action.
The on-line campaign will take the form of a chain e-mail that will be directed at potential internet punters and participants in office sweepstakes.
Animal Aid also plan protests and the distribution of leaflets outside betting shops around the country during the run up to the National.
The 100,000 leaflets bear a shocking image of a galloping horse with a flapping broken foreleg and the slogan 'Cruelty - You Can Bet On It'.
Animal Aid spokesman Andrew Tyler said:
"This weekend sees the start of our Horse Racing Awareness Week and the publication of a damning report called 'Running for their lives'.
"We are naming all the 247 horses that lost their lives either directly or indirectly through National Hunt racing last winter."
Animal Aid has conducted its own investigation into equine deaths and injuries.
In their report, backed by a detailed dossier on the racing industry, they claim that one in every 31 horses who competed last year in National Hunt racing failed to survive the season - either being killed on or off the track.
"The security will be the tightest ever this year - as tight as it can be made," declared Aintree Managing Director Charles Barnett yesterday.
"We rely on the police to tell us about areas where we need to be particularly vigilant. They take our security situation extremely seriously and we have been even more careful since the bomb warning which ruined the race in 1997."
Animal rights activists hit the headlines in 1995 when they twice interrupted the start of that year's National.
The authorities also have to contend with the ever-present threat of a bomb alert which stopped the 1997 race and caused it to be postponed for two days.
The foot and mouth crisis is also a burning issue in racing and Aintree organisers are aware that they are staging the first high profile meeting since the current emergency began - that against the backdrop of growing opposition to the sport's decision to carry on.
Racegoers have had to go through an airport style screening since the mass evacuation of the stands four years ago which put 80,000 people out on the streets of Liverpool and those with cars in the course could not recover them until the following day.
Parking in the centre of the track has been banned since that day and all vehicles parked at the rear of the stands are searched.
And the threat continues, with Kempton Park evacuated immediately after the King George of 1999 and only one race run at Ascot last September following coded bomb warnings.
The foot and mouth scare is a new hurdle for the Aintree staff, but tips have been taken from the meetings that have taken place over the last month and, like them, the track will disinfect racegoers and their vehicles.
"All the precautions laid down by the Jockey Club are in place and, as this racecourse is in a city area, we are just hoping that foot and mouth will not come close," added Barnett. If that happens and Aintree falls within an exclusion zone, then the meeting will be off.
The Cheltenham Festival, postponed two weeks ago, is still living on a knife edge over its rearranged date next month with foot and mouth cases within 20 miles.
Aintree's boss is well aware that his course and the horses that race there, will be in the spotlight next week.
There were no fatalities in the Grand National last year, but four horses died on the opening day including smart steeplechaser Strong Promise. Popular grey One Man lost his life there two years earlier.
"We are constantly striving to improve safety and we have done a lot of work with animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA," said Barnett.
Over the years the fences have been continually modified to make the race safer but the activists still believe the world's greatest race is cruel to horses and should be stopped.