Animal Rising at the Derby

Animal Rising Epsom Derby protest reaction: Neil Channing on racing's real battle

Looking back at the performances at Epsom at the weekend and the one to take out of it was very obvious to me.

Nevin Truesdale, the chief executive of the Jockey Club, showed himself to be a very strong media performer and in all interviews he was calm and lucid, quite forceful but never disrespectful to 'his opponents'.

I put those words in inverted commas because I think people are making a massive strategic mistake if they think that the opponent that racing has to face down is a group of less than 300 disorganised, underfunded and disparate campaigners with views not widely shared by even a tiny percentage of the public. I'll come on to that later though.

Not only was Truesdale great with the media and a really strong advocate for racing, but he also came up with the genius idea of an injunction and that meant a large legal bill for his organisation and a criminal record for contempt of court for anyone running on the track.

It's likely that the large legal bill would have been a much larger bill throughout the summer, in terms of extra security at all tracks, and they may have even saved themselves money, plus it ensured that we actually had a Derby that went off on time and as someone who has loved the race since Shergar, I was delighted with that.

Neil Channing quote

I can't help worry a bit though. I'm someone who believes in the right to protest and although I love the Derby and I have spent my life betting on horse racing, I'd quit in a heartbeat if I thought that for it to survive I'd have to embrace the idea of a country where protest is banned.

I must stress, I thought Epsom got the balance about right; you got arrested and will possibly face a jail sentence if you ran on the track putting lives at risk, but you were free to protest in the designated area.

We did hear of 19 other arrests for "planning to disrupt the race" and 11 of those were in early-morning raids on people's houses. That part I find pretty scary. I don't really want to live in a country where people can drag me away for things they suspect I was thinking about doing.

Recent yougov polling shows 27% of the population identify as republicans and 38% of 18-24-year-olds believe the monarchy should be abolished altogether, but the police decided to detain dozens of people before they'd even had a chance to protest at the coronation.

Just Stop Oil are a fairly small group of climate activists and in recent yougov polling only 16% of the public are either somewhat or very favourable towards them, while 51% take an opposite view. However, 65% of the public are shown to be worried and 28% not worried, in recent polling on the subject of climate change.


Around 3% of the country are vegan, which may not seem that many, but the number keeps rising rapidly. In 2014 it was less than 150,000 people.

Days after the Grand National the online petitions going around that wanted the race banned had well over 100,000 names on them.

In the last week I've seen many racing folk attempt to besmirch Animal Rising by associating them with groups that they personally dislike. I find that extremely distasteful as someone who doesn't support Animal Rising but who is a republican, likes the idea of more people becoming vegan (even if I'll probably never manage it myself), thinks that the Just Stop Oil protestors are heroes and who definitely hasn't made a good plan for where I'll live and what I'll eat when the effects of catastrophic climate breakdown kick in.

Time to think strategically

The people I'm talking about, who seem to think that just one more tweet calling Animal Rising morons or unwashed or idiots will save racing, will probably hate that last paragraph. I wish they would just pause for a second and think strategically for once.

If racing wants to have a battle with Animal Rising it really ought to be an easy win. Millions of people in this country love watching racing, love a bet and many own or work with horses and against that there are just a few hundred people that support Animal Rising.

People spending time smugly telling them over and over how ignorant they are as horses are living in five star hotels and are loved are clearly not that smart themselves as they have failed to comprehend what Animal Rising are about.

They don't believe that humans have the right to own or control animals. You can keep telling them that the horses enjoy a brilliant life until you are blue in the face, but you are wasting your time as they fundamentally disagree with most of the population as to the role of animals in society. You can't change that view by banging on about what a great life the horses have.

If racing faces a battle for its survival in the future it won't be the one that it fights against Animal Rising. It will be against the millions of people that have no real opinion on the subject, most of whom have never been racing and many of whom may have never seen a horse.

Could this become political issue?

MPs of all parties will tell you that their inboxes are regularly full of group letters and the complaints of organised campaigners and that generally it is animal welfare issues that get the numbers every month. It isn't that hard to imagine a backbench MP, maybe in five or ten years' time, deciding to jump on this issue and make a name for themselves.

These are the people that we need to attempt to win over. These are the people that need to see how well the horses are cared for, how few fatalities there are and how that number is dropping and these people can be persuaded to engage with the sport, to watch racing and to learn more about it.

If currently you are one of the people who think that strategically it's going to be a good idea to make it a battle between racing and a load of other groups of people that you don't personally agree with, then suddenly you are taking on millions of people and I think you'll regret it.

There are people out there who would be delighted to see racing join their endless culture war. I personally don't want to be on the side of the Daily Mail, Nigel Farage and GB News.

If I was made to choose, I wouldn't choose racing. Maybe you are reading that and saying good riddance. All I can say is that when it comes to the real fight to defend and protect the future of the sport it is people like me you are going to need.

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