Aintree on guard for Grand National protests

There will be worried faces at Aintree this afternoon, not all of them belonging to jockeys who face the ultimate racing challenge of the Grand National.

In the wake of the Cheltenham Festival earlier this month, when 10 horses met their deaths, security has been stepped up for the race some portray as the greatest killing field of them all.

Officers have been on 24-hour alert since Monday, patrolling the grounds and searching prominent locations on the course. More than 400 members of security will be on duty this afternoon, employing a closed-circuit television system.

There have been threats to disrupt today's events from animal rights protesters and a milder message from the League Against Cruel Sports. "Events such as the Grand National are far too gruelling for the animals involved," Kevin Saunders, a spokesman, said yesterday. "We call on the racing authorities and the general public to recognise that it is unacceptable to ask any horse to forfeit its life in the name of sport."

With betting tax now down to 9 per cent, bookmakers expect turnover to hold its own. The National is Britain's most popular sporting betting event. Betting shops are expected to handle more than pounds 100m from 15 million people.

Only 28 runners are likely to line up this afternoon. Last night Ladbrokes had four joint-favourites on 7-1, in Rough Quest, Son Of War, Superior Finish and Young Hustler.

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