Sir Peter O’Sullevan, racing commentator for the BBC for 50 years, died peacefully Wednesday at his home at the age of 97. O’Sullevan, known to many as simply the “Voice of Racing,” was the BBC commentator from 1947 until his retirement in 1997. He was awarded knighthood before his 50th and final Grand National commentary. O’Sullevan remained a regular visitor to the races until very recently, and also enjoyed success as an owner, his best horses including top sprinter Be Friendly and Triumph Hurdle victor Attivo.
“Sir Peter was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known,” said Nigel Payne, chief executive of the Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust, which raises money for animal and racing-related charities. “Only last week he was talking about what he wanted me to do for the trust in the future. He was still very alert. It’s a sad day.”
Born in County Kerry, Ireland, O’Sullevan worked as a print journalist for the Press Association and the Daily Express prior to taking the microphone.
Many racing figures paid tribute to O’Sullevan Wednesday. Jim McGrath, who succeeded O’Sullevan at the BBC, told At The Races, “It’s a very sad day in racing. At 97, it’s a great knock, but at the same time he was razor-sharp in his mind right to the very end, although he did say to me recently ‘I don’t think the body’s designed to last 100 years.’ He was a great, great man. He had a complete understanding and appreciation of exactly what was happening on the racecourse. I think racing has been very lucky to have a man that was so passionate about the sport able to eloquently convey everything that was good about it to the outside world.”
Five-time champion jockey Willie Carson told Channel 4 Racing from Goodwood, “I always remember in the days when racing was on the evening news, they’d show the last furlong of the Classics. You’d switch the TV on and it would be Peter giving the commentary. You’d be listening to Sir Peter’s dulcet, velvet tones giving the commentary. It was lovely. He was ‘Mr Horse Racing.’”
Nick Rust, Chief Executive of the British Horseracing Authority, said, “Today is a sad day for British racing. Many generations of racing fans will trace their love of racing back to Sir Peter’s unmistakable commentaries.
He had an innate ability to capture the thrills of our sport, managing as he did to enhance and often define our iconic races. He was also one of the rare characters to have transcended our sport, being held dear as he was by the British public, and also represented the best of us: his charitable endeavors should serve as his finest legacy and a reminder to us all that we should be judged by the manner in which our animals, as well as our people, are looked after.”