It’s watched by more than 500 million people from 140 different countries, but the Grand National remains one of the most controversial horse races in the world.
Since it was first run in 1839, the spectacle has become a national institution in the United Kingdom which has transformed into the greatest steeplechase – a race run over fences with a variety of obstacles, including “plain fences, water jumps or open ditches” – on Earth.
However, animal rights groups claim the race represents the “broken relationship” between humans and nature due to the potential dangers the horses face.
The race, which has been modified in recent years to ease safety concerns, sees a field of up to 40 horses galloping 4.3 miles and jumping 30 fences the size of small cars.
The demanding course has resulted in multiple fatalities over the years – two horses died during the 2022 edition – with many others injured and some put down as a result.
“Most people would say they love animals, so why are we OK with this?” Animal Rising, previously called Animal Rebellion, said in a statement sent to CNN Sport.
“Whether it is for food or for sport, our relationship with animals is beyond broken.”
The animal rights group is launching its biggest ever campaign to protect animals this month and has suggested it plans to disrupt this year’s Grand National, which will take place at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, UK, on April 15.
The showpiece event is part of a three-day festival which begins on Thursday.
“This April we are launching the biggest campaign to protect animals and the climate this country has ever seen,” Animal Rising added.
“Already over 500 people are signed up for training to take peaceful action this summer.”
Last month, a reporter from the UK newspaper The Mail on Sunday went undercover to reveal the plans the group had regarding disrupting the race.
The story detailed how the organization was planning to help multiple people break onto the track with the hope of preventing the race from starting.
Animal Rising says the report won’t stop them from finishing their mission of raising awareness of what they claim are unethical practices.
“One undercover Mail on Sunday reporter is not going to stop teachers, nurses, and more from acting for all life and really beginning the crucial conversation about our broken relationship with other animals,” the statement added.
“This conversation is vital if we are to tackle the root causes of our climate and ecological crises.”
The Grand National is no stranger to demonstrators looking to disrupt the race and Merseyside Police say they have a “robust policing plan” in place for this year’s edition.
Local police say they have been working with the race organizer – the Jockey Club – for months in order to ensure the safety of those participating and attending the spectacle.
“We respect the right to peaceful protest and expression of views, but public order or criminal offenses will not be tolerated and will be dealt with robustly,” a police spokesperson said, while also releasing safety advice to racegoers this week.
The Jockey Club referred CNN to the Merseyside Police when asked for comment, while Aintree Racecourse said that horse welfare and safety is “the most important thing to the racecourse.”
Amid the controversy, thousands of attendees are once again set to descend on Aintree on Saturday for a race which animal rights activists hope will never happen.