Creating an organisation like this is something we’ve been talking about for a while. Previously, when racing has come under scrutiny, there hasn’t been a spokesperson, and many people in the industry went on shows ill prepared. The week before the Grand National, things blew up when the head of Animal Rising went on Good Morning Britain. There wasn’t proper balance in the programme’s piece, and many people felt there should have been a representative from the BHA or ITV Racing, given the same channel was broadcasting the Grand National only a week later.
Stand Up For Racing was created that day, as we tried to get ahead of events. Within 24 hours we’d been contacted by Talk TV, and the BHA provided statistics for Kevin Blake to represent racing on that channel. His interview went viral, and the ‘Stand Up For Racing’ hashtag had a reach of seven million that week.
"There wasn't proper balance in the programme's piece, and many people felt there should have been a representative from the BHA or ITV Racing, given the same channel was broadcasting the Grand National only a week later."
We’re never going to turn into vegans who think animals should be released, so we can hardly expect the protesters to become racing fans either! All we can do is correct misinformation, following the template of what Kick Up For Racing started in Australia. It’s about the middle ground. We’ve all encountered people who think racing is cruel, jockeys beat their mounts, and we shoot horses as soon as they’re injured.
I was coming home from Ascot one day, and my taxi driver told me his two children were mad into ponies, but he was afraid to bring them racing as he thought it would upset them. By the time we’d got to Heathrow, he’d agreed to come to Ascot with his daughters, and I’d arranged for tickets to be left for them. It’s very easy for anti-racing protesters to put out a graphic with false information, and for a lie to spread around the world in hours. We’re trying to get the truth out there, and if we can each convert just one other person, we can make a difference.
In the first week of Stand Up For Racing, everyone from vets to trainers and media representatives got in touch, and we sat down and made a list of everyone who’d offered their assistance. We’re aware we can’t fix every problem in racing, but we can be a collective force, and our hope is to bring together organisations in Britain, Ireland and further afield.
We’re not funded by anyone, so we can be a united, independent, voice. In the short term, we’ve put together a panel of media representatives and PR firms to ensure we’re available for interviews as major events come up. In the longer term, racing fans have contacted us to be a part of the launch of our website. There, people will be able to download graphics to share on social media, and they can search any topic in racing to find detailed information.
"We're aware we can't fix every problem in racing, but we can be a collective force, and our hope is to bring together organisations in Britain, Ireland and further afield."
Unfortunately, I think the coverage Animal Rising got around the Grand National has given them fuel, and they’re not going to retreat to the shadows until April 2024. We’re in for a summer of protests. But we have to remember, of course, the organisation doesn’t only want to ban racing. Animal Rising want to eradicate farming, rewilding 70 per cent of agricultural land and releasing all livestock. I even saw an interview where one of their representatives said, if they could, they’d force us all to become vegan.
Animal Rising get media traction from disrupting racing (more so than from events such as Badminton or Crufts), so although racing isn’t necessarily their biggest target, it happens to be the best way for them to get noticed. Their action is so far contained to the UK, though it might spread. I think the Irish attitude is very different, as we’re much more practical when it comes to our relationship with animals. We saw how passionate the people of Liverpool were in protecting their race, and I think protesters would be similarly unwelcome over here.