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16th Apr 2023

Trainer blames protestors for the death of his horse in the Aintree Grand National

Niall McIntyre

The Aintree Grand National was interrupted and subsequently delayed by animal rights protestors on Saturday.

Due to go off at 5.15, the white flag wasn’t raised until 5.35 as a small number of protestors slipped through the defence drills arranged by the Liverpool police.

The police had been warned, and did plan for such commotion, but were powerless to prevent all disruption as a small group of dissidents made their way onto the track over the far side of the course.

Some of the protestors climbed the fence and made it onto the race-track, others clashed with police and, for a finish, their actions caused the race to be delayed by 20 minutes.

In the mean-time, the participating horses had their pre-race routines altered as they were forced to return to the pre-parade ring at a time when the race was supposed to be starting.

The race did eventually go to tape at 5.35 and, with no fewer than four horses falling at the first of the race’s 30 obstacles, many connections and commentators argued that the stunted build-up played its part in upsetting the horses.

One of these falls was a fatal one as Sandy Thomson’s horse Hill Sixteen had to be put down after suffering a tragic injury. Trainer Thomson was interviewed by the Racing Post after the incident and he put the blame on the protestors for upsetting his horse who, in 27 previous runs, had never fallen.

“It’s not good,” said Thomson.

“He just hasn’t taken off at the first fence; he’s got so bloody hyper because of the carry on. They haven’t a bloody clue what they’re doing.

“He’s jumped round here twice and never had a bother. I don’t know when he last fell. I know how ignorant these people are and they haven’t a bloody clue. They just cause more problems than they ever solve.”


“I think horses got very wound up and, oddly, not having a parade didn’t help the situation.

“The jockeys get on the horse and then they have got to parade before going on to the course, to settle them down,” he added.

“We took Hill Sixteen back to the stable and took his saddle off, because we had no idea what was going to happen,” added Thomson.

“We put some water on him to rehydrate him a bit, because it was a warm day. Then suddenly it was all a bit of a rush.

“Everybody was quite hyper and it doesn’t help the horse at all. People can turn round and say that’s a load of rubbish, but it’s not a load of rubbish.

“That’s why we have red hoods, blinkers and cheekpieces and things, just to help keep them in the best frame of mind possible.”

“I stand by what I say, they are totally ignorant about anything to do with horses.

“We are getting fed up in this country and somebody’s got to start doing something about these people.

“Most people are going about their lawful business and you get them (protestors) lying on roads and things. We’ve got to take a much firmer stance,” he added.

The race has come in for plenty of criticism in the last 24 hours but Chief executive of the BHA said Julie Harrington stood up for her sport.

“Our thoughts are with everyone connected to the horses who suffered fatal injuries this week,” she said.

“British racing works tirelessly to improve the sport’s safety record and reduce avoidable risk. Every incident is reviewed by the BHA alongside the racecourse and other bodies. As a sport we have for years shown great determination and commitment to improve welfare standards by taking measured scientific, evidence-based, regulatory and education-based steps.

“We respect the right of anyone to hold views about our sport, but we robustly condemn the reckless and potentially harmful actions of a handful of people in disrupting the race at a time when horses were in the parade ring.

“Those involved in British racing are rightly proud of our sport and the role it plays in providing an unparalleled quality of life for horses bred for racing. Love and respect for horses is at the heart of everything we do.

“The Grand National is and always will be an iconic sporting event and the actions of a small number of people today will do nothing to diminish its huge and enduring international appeal.”

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