WHILE the greatest race and the greatest jockey were taking up all the headlines, Aintree bosses  were insisting the welfare of the animals is uppermost in their minds as the 2015 Grand National meeting got under way today.

With AP McCoy's last National ride coming up on Saturday,  a giant good luck message was projected on to Liverpool's Liver Building.

The 40-year-old, 19-time champion jockey from County Antrim is in his final season but should he ride to victory in the big race, he will bring the curtain down on a glittering career there and then.

Whatever the outcome for McCoy – he is on favourite Shutthefrontdoor – the message from the event's organisers is “The Horse Comes First at Aintree”.

With 150,000 spectators expected over the next three days, the Jockey Club Racecourses organisation and Britain’s leading welfare organisations were keen to highlighting work and initiatives taking place throughout the country in relation to horse welfare.

The RSPCA, World Horse Welfare, the British Horse Society, the British Horseracing Authority, Retraining of Racehorses and others have all descended to showcase their work in a marquee alongside the Red Rum Garden, where an equine vet will be on hand to answer questions about the well-being of the horses.

But their efforts were were dismissed by the animal rights group PETA who accused organises of treating horse like "wind up toys".

And while the RSPCA did acknowledge improvements in safety standards for horses at Aintree - for the past two years no horses have died in the main event - the charity's equine consultant, David Muir, was this week calling for the number of runners to be reduced.

He said: “Together with the occasional bunching issues, the number of loose horses, when jockeys become unseated, further increases risk factors to both horse and jockey."

But his comments were dismissed by the British Horseracing Authority's Robin Mounsey who argued there was "no evidence" fewer runners would reduce the welfare risk. 

Comply Or DieComply Or Die

British Racing’s official charity for retired racehorses, RoR (Retraining of Racehorses)  today paraded some former Grand National winners including Comply or Die and Monet’s Garden before the first race on the Grand Opening Day.

TV presenter Clare Balding is a patron of RoR, which provides part-funding for four centres caring for and retraining for former racehorses before placing them in suitable homes.

Andrew Tulloch, Director or Racing at Aintree Racecourse, said: “At Aintree we have developed long-standing and constructive relationships with many superb welfare organisations.

“We are delighted to be able to showcase the superb work that these organisations undertake at this year’s festival and we look forward to continuing to working closely with them all in the future.”

Despite moves designed to show a more caring side of the Grand National, animal rights group PETA once again remained firmly unconvinced.

"If horses truly came first at Aintree they wouldn’t be treated like wind-up toys, their fragile limbs pushed to and sometimes beyond the breaking point," a spokesman told Liverpool Confidential.

"Horses in the industry are overworked to the detriment of their health by the inherently cruel and greedy racing business, where money is king."