LIVERPOOL, England, April 6 (Xinhua) -- Tight security was in place Thursday as thousands of people converged on the famous Aintree racecourse as the iconic three-day Grand National Festival got underway in Liverpool.
Police in the city warned that massive security measures will be in place for what is the 20th anniversary of Britain's biggest ever mass evacuation from a sporting event, with armed officers on duty at the course.
Merseyside Police Commander, Chief Superintendent Claire Richards, said: "Racegoers can expect to see high visibility policing across the three days of the event.
"They may also see an armed presence but I want to reassure them that this is not in response to any direct threat aimed at the festival but just as a visible reassurance for the thousands of people who will come through the gates over the three days."
More than 60,000 people were evacuated from the course in 1997 after a credible coded message was received that pro-republican Irish Republican Army (IRA) had planted a bomb on the course.
Although no incendiary devices were found thousands of people were marooned in the city with nowhere to stay, until local families opened their doors to offer free hospitality in their homes.
On a happier note, this year's racing festival marks the 40th year that local hero Red Rum won the legendary Grand National, claimed to be the world's toughest horse race, for a record breaking third time.
Red Rum's famous trainer Ginger McCain put the horse through its paces on the sandy beach just a few kilometers from the course. Red Rum was buried at Aintree when he died, with a bronze statue of the champion horse a permanent reminder of the triple winner.
Around 150,000 people will head to the course over the next three days, with the biggest crowd of a capacity 70,000 packing Aintree Saturday for the big steeplechase race, the Grand National.
Forty riders will battle it out on Saturday afternoon for a million pound prize plus the glory of entering the record books.
The first Grand National in Liverpool was ran in 1839, and at Aintree covers a tough course stretching for almost 7 kilometers, earning the title as the most valuable horse race in Europe. To win the million pound race, the winner has to navigate 30 of the world's toughest hurdles in what has been described as the ultimate test of horse and rider.
Animal welfare campaigners have for many years called for the Grand National to be scrapped, citing the deaths of 40 horses over the 3-day event between 2000 and 2013.