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Sir Peter O'Sullevan: 'Voice of Racing' has died aged 97

  PICTURE: Gerry Cranham (  

Legendary race-caller
Sir Peter O’Sullevan dies

SIR PETER O’SULLEVAN, who became known as the ‘Voice of Racing’ and widely regarded as one of the greatest sports commentators of all time, has died at the age of 97.

O’Sullevan, the BBC’s leading racing commentator for 50 years, provided the soundtrack to many of racing’s greatest moments and received a knighthood in 1997, weeks after calling his last race.

A well-connected journalist and expert race-caller, O’Sullevan also made his mark on racing as an owner with his colours (black, yellow cross-belts, yellow cap) most memorably carried by Triumph Hurdle winner Attivo and the sprinter Be Friendly, who won the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp.

After retiring from commentating at the age of 79, O’Sullevan channelled his energy into the charitable trust he set up to benefit various animal welfare organisations.

His autobiography Calling the Horses, published in 1989 and updated last year, topped the Sunday Times non-fiction bestseller list, the first time a racing book had scaled such literary heights.

Born on March 3, 1918 and the only child of Colonel John Joseph O’Sullevan, resident magistrate of Killarney, O’Sullevan always claimed to have first drawn breath in Kenmare, County Kerry, but very late in life revealed that he had in fact been born in Newcastle, County Down.

As a child, O’Sullevan moved to Surrey to live with his grandparents and after his passion for racing steadily grew, he worked on the racing desk at the Press Association before his commentating career started with BBC radio in 1946.

Three years later he became part of the Grand National commentary team and he would go on to become a household name as he called some of the most memorable runnings of the Aintree showpiece - Foinavon's win in 1967, Bob Champion's success on Aldaniti in 1981 and Red Rum’s three victories, the third of which in 1977 he declared: “It’s hats off and a tremendous reception – you’ve never heard one like it at Liverpool!"

Sir Peter O'Sullevan with his wife Patricia

Sir Peter O'Sullevan with his wife Pat

Suny Bay’s Hennessy Gold Cup victory in 1997 was the last race on television he called and he went into the Newbury winner’s enclosure the very next race after Mick Fitzgerald carried his colours to victory on Sounds Fyne.

O’Sullevan was awarded an OBE in 1977, CBE in 1991, and a knighthood six years later. He was elected a member of the Jockey Club in 1986, and his numerous awards include Racing Journalist of the Year in 1971 (shared with friend Clive Graham) and 1986, and the Royal Television Society’s TV Sports Award in 1986.

O’Sullevan, who combined his commentating duties with writing for the Daily Express, had no children. His wife Pat died in 2010.

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