The upcoming Derby Festival, which is scheduled to take place on the 2nd and 3rd of June, is facing a potential threat from animal rights protestors. In response to explicit warnings from the Animal Rising group, the Jockey Club, owner of Epsom Downs, has applied for a High Court injunction to prevent any disruption to the prestigious event.
The proposed injunction would prohibit individuals from entering the racecourse and interfering with the races, ensuring the safety and smooth running of the festival for both the horses and the attendees.
The Jockey Club’s concerns are not unfounded, given recent incidents that occurred at other horse racing events. Just last month, animal rights activists managed to delay the start of the Grand National by gaining access to the track at Aintree.
It was only stopped from being more of an issue thanks to the work of locals alongside police and racecourse security in stopping the protestors from attaching themselves to fences and other things. Subsequently, protestors also attempted to disrupt the Scottish Grand National, sparking growing apprehension within the racing community.
There’ll Be A High Court Hearing
To determine whether the injunction will be granted, a High Court hearing has been scheduled for Friday. The Jockey Club issued a statement to emphasise the point that individuals who violate the court order may face legal consequences, including fines and imprisonment for contempt of court.
However, the Club was careful to clarify that the injunction does not impede anyone’s right to peaceful and lawful protest. In fact, the Jockey Club has even offered Animal Rising a designated protest area near the entrance of the racecourse on the day of the Derby.
The Derby Festival, held in Surrey, features prominent Grade One races such as The Oaks and The Derby. The Jockey Club’s Chief Executive Officer, Nevin Truesdale, said that the organisation’s commitment to protecting everyone’s safety and preventing a repeat of the ‘illegal and reckless’ protests witnessed at Aintree in April.
The decision to seek an injunction was not taken lightly, involving consultations with Surrey Police and other stakeholders. Truesdale said that if the injunction is granted, it will be part of a comprehensive security plan to guarantee a safe and successful event.
Why They Are Protesting
The obvious question to ask is why it is that the group have decided to protest in the first place. Their work to disrupt the Grand National was seen by the group itself as a success, even though horses died in the race and many within the sport believe that the disruption caused by the delay was part of the reason a horse named Hill Sixteen died.
The horses started the race much quicker than would be expected, largely because how skittish they were after the delay caused by the protestors. It was one of three horse deaths across Grand National week, with five deaths out of 395 runners across ten Grand Nationals since 2012.
As many as 118 people were arrested at Aintree, with a spokesperson for Animal Rising saying before the protest, “Police are wasting time chasing protesters rather than addressing the climate and ecological emergency, and our broken relationship to animals. We remain undeterred, and we will peacefully continue our actions to stop harm coming to animals at Aintree. Today marks the first of many actions that will really take place this summer to push this conversation to the top of the agenda.” It is feared that protests at Epsom Downs will be part of those ‘many actions’.
One of the most interesting things is their chosen venue for the protest. Whilst it is likely that other major events such as Royal Ascot will also see protests happen later in the summer, Epsom Racecourse is a venue with its own history of protest. It was at Tattenham Corner, just before the home straight, where Emily Davison was hit by King George V’s horse Anmer, later dying as a result of the injuries suffered from being struck by a horse running at about 35 miles per hour. It is likely no coincidence that the track has once again been chosen for protest more than 100 years later.
Do They Have A Point?
It is difficult to have a sensible conversation around horse racing, given the emotive nature of the topic. There are certainly going to be plenty of people on the Animal Rights side of the argument that would like to see racing abandoned altogether, which is simply an unrealistic aim.
Equally, there will be many on the pro-racing side that feel as though horses are just animals that wouldn’t even be alive if not for the need to have them take part in races. The truth perhaps lies somewhere in the middle, with a need to protect animals being an important point that should be looked at.
For all that the horses might not have been bred if not for their participation in races, they have been bred and are now living, breathing creatures that should be protected and looked after. That being said, horse racing as a sport brings far too much money into the United Kingdom for it to be cancelled altogether, to say nothing of how loved it is by millions. As Hill Sixteen’s owner, Jimmy Fyffe, said,
“He could be in a field running about and you can lose a horse. The horses get looked after so well by all trainers. I’ve been in all the stables that I’ve got horses at and they are looked after like kings.”
The most sensible thing is to admit that more could be done to protect the horses taking part in races, whilst also acknowledging that the sport isn’t going anywhere. By taking such an entrenched position of wanting horse racing to be stopped forever, groups like Animal Rising aren’t going to be taken seriously by many within the industry. Equally, they’re going to struggle to see anything happen that would be for the good of the horses, which is their stated aim. Finding a middle ground where both sides can try to see the point being made by other would be best, but seems unlikely.
Will An Injunction Make Much Difference?
As the Derby Festival draws near, these concerns regarding potential disruptions from animal rights protestors have understandably prompted the Jockey Club to take decisive action. By seeking a High Court injunction, the Club aims to make sure that the integrity of the races remains, whilst also moving to ensure the safety of both participants and those that are heading to Epsom Downs to watch the racing.
The court hearing will determine the fate of the injunction, but regardless of the outcome, the Jockey Club remains committed to upholding the right to peaceful protest while upholding a secure environment for all attendees.
It is possible that an injunction will be granted but that protestors from groups like Animal Rising will still do what they can to disrupt events as much as possible. They will see it as a success if racing can be delayed and they manage to make headlines in a way that protesting in a designated area would not manage to do. With this in mind, it is likely that there will be some who are strong-willed enough to say that they’ll happily take on the possible criminal record that will accompany protests if an injunction is granted, whilst others will be happy to pay any associated fines.