Animal Rising has accused the Epsom Derby Jockey Club of breaching safety procedures by failing to stop a race after one of its activists ran on to the track.
The protester, who jumped the barrier shortly after the Betfred Derby began, was wrestled to the ground and dragged away by police before the horses could reach him.
The Jockey Club, which owns the Epsom Downs, hit out at the activist for putting the lives of horses and athletes at risk, describing his actions as “reckless and illegal” – while Julie Harrington, of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) “strongly condemned” them for jeopardising the safety of the animals.
But a spokesman for the animal rights organisation, which also disrupted the Grand National in Aintree in April, said the club should have stopped the race immediately once the activist had entered the track.
It said they chose to “steam ahead regardless” as they were under “immense pressure” to finish the 1:30pm race before ITV1’s coverage switched to the FA Cup Final at around 2pm.
According to the BHA rules, published on its website, a yellow Stop Race flag should be waved if there is a “major hazard ahead which is unable to be avoided”.
In a statement, Animal Rising said: “It was clear to security and police that several individuals attempted to enter the track before the race began, but race organisers chose to steam ahead regardless.
“The fact that the individuals involved were on the course’s last stretch is no excuse for the Jockey Club’s decision to not only start the race but then fail to follow the British Horseracing Authority ‘Stop Race’ procedures for when people are on the track.”
“In an industry where a horse dies every other day, it is unsurprising that the need to run the race was put above care for animals.”
The Jockey Club has been approached for comment.