Armed police on duty at Grand National: Racing

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If any animal rights activists arrive at Aintree today with intent to disrupt the Grand National they may consider the response to their threat a little severe.

Armed police officers carrying semi-automatic rifles will be highly visible for the first time at Liverpool following this week's terrorist activity on the motorways. The men with carbines will be among a police presence of 500, compared to 200 on the first two days of the meeting, supplementing the course's own protection staff.

Security has also been heightened because of the arrival today of the Princess Royal, who will present the big-race trophy and unveil a bust of Peter O'Sullevan, the BBC commentator who completes 50 working Nationals this afternoon.

The easy cliche in racing has always been that the IRA are Irish and the Irish like racehorses, ergo there will be no disruption to activities on the turf. The police commander at Aintree, Superintendent Ian Latimer, does not accept this and his officers are in place to combat trouble from either the animal rights splinter group, Action Against The Grand National, or those responsible for the motorway disruption on Thursday.

"There is an extensive visible police operation and also covert operations," he said. "It is a high-profile presence: there are armed officers at all pedestrianised entrances and around the perimeter, but not on the main concourse. This is for public reassurance purposes. We have not had any specific threats from any organisations, but we have a range of contingency plans to deal with any eventuality."

There were no equine fatalities over the big fences yesterday, though the first obstacle over the mountains of spruce was hardly a great public relations exercise as four runners came to grief. Chilipour's capsize appeared particularly gruesome, though his thrashing on the turf was caused by a leg trapped in the reins and he was swiftly released. There was no such fortunate ending for Penny A Day, the favourite for a hurdle race, who was later put down after shattering a cannon bone.

The most serious among the injured in the jockeys' room was Jamie Osborne, who gave up his remaining rides after an organ-shaking fall from Bear Claw. He promised to be back to ride the National favourite, Suny Bay.

Another fancied runner, Wylde Hide, who runs in the colours of the high- rolling Irish punter J P McManus, will carry into the race the largest off-course cash bet on the National since betting shops were legalised almost 40 years ago. The wager - pounds 25,000 each-way at odds of 20-1 - was placed in a London office of William Hill 11 days ago, and if Wylde Hide is successful will return pounds 555,000 to the fortunate backer, who may - or may not - be McManus himself. The total betting turnover on the race could approach pounds 70m.

The race is so open that any one of five or six runners could start favourite. "You could almost open a book on what will start favourite," a Hills spokesman, said yesterday. "If the public went mad for Jenny Pitman you could even go as far down as Nahthen Lad [currently 16-1] for market leader, but I suspect it will probably be Avro Anson."

Aintree guide, pages 29-31