The Front Runner

Millions of reasons to smile as we remember the 'Voice of Racing' Sir Peter O'Sullevan

It is nine years since Sir Peter O’Sullevan died aged 97
It is nine years since Sir Peter O’Sullevan died aged 97

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For those of us who enjoy reflecting on great moments in horse racing history, memories of Sir Peter O'Sullevan arise at regular intervals but especially at this time of year, from Cheltenham to Aintree. It's a time to think of Dawn Run or Arkle or "hats off and a tremendous reception, you never heard one like it at Liverpool". 

So this is also a useful moment to reflect on all the good that has been done in the commentator's name through the charity set up when he retired in 1997. The Peter O'Sullevan Charitable Trust was first established as a means of raising funds for six charities he particularly favoured, which was mostly done via an indulgent lunch and auction each December, when he would give out an award to someone who had achieved highly in the field of horse racing.

Hard as it may be to believe, it is now nine years since Sir Peter passed on at the grand age of 97. At that point, his Trust benefited from the impressive wealth he left behind, the fruits of a lifetime of shrewd investments at the track and elsewhere.

"The instruction to the trustees was that this money was not to be used just for the six original charities but was to be spread across the racing industry for either animals or people working with animals," says Nigel Payne, who has administered the trust for decades. "He specifically didn't want us to just use the money we got by investing, he wanted us to spend the capital. He said, use it the best way you can."

As a result, there has been a long list of beneficiaries in the intervening years, notably the Injured Jockeys Fund, which named its Newmarket centre after Sir Peter when it opened in 2019. Racing To School, the British Racing School, the Lambourn Open Day and the National Horse Racing Museum are among the organisations to have benefited in the last year alone, along with a number of aftercare centres for retired racehorses.

An estimated £15m has been disbursed since Sir Peter's death
An estimated £15m has been disbursed since Sir Peter's death

There has also been significant funding for centres offering Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT), a growing sector which has Payne's enthusiastic support and which could prove a vital source of post-racing employment for racehorses. "Thoroughbreds are proving to be the best horses for equine therapy," he says.

"People always assumed they'd be too highly strung. But they're trained and very intelligent and they can be adept at this particular skill." Funding from the O'Sullevan Trust was essential in the setting up of HEIR, a sort of kitemark system for EAT centres which the Front Runner has discussed before.

When considering a new application, the trustees considered two questions: would Sir Peter have wanted to support this cause and would the donation create a legacy for his name? As a consequence, that name now appears in lots of places which have to do with horses. "There's loads of fences and walls and barn roofs with Peter's name on them," says Payne.

He estimates that around £15m has been disbursed since Sir Peter's death, an extraordinary sum. By the end of next year, it is expected that the great man's legacy will have been paid out in full.

That doesn't mean an end for the Trust. Rather, it will revert to the work it was doing during his life, of organising an annual lunch and raising funds for his six favoured charities: World Horse Welfare, Racing Welfare, the British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre, Compassion In World Farming, the Blue Cross charity for pets and the Brooke charity for working horses and donkeys. Apparently, that auction can be relied upon to yield something north of £200,000 each Christmas.

Sir Peter O'Sullevan and Lester Piggott at the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Annual Awards lunch in 2001
Sir Peter O'Sullevan and Lester Piggott at the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Annual Awards lunch in 2001Credit: Dan Abraham

"This has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my life," says Payne. "You can give £1,000 to some organisation and it would mean as much as £1m to somebody else. It's wonderful to get the reactions of some people. Some of them literally say: 'You've saved us.'

"I'm proud for Peter. He would be so chuffed to think that his money had gone so far and had done so much good.

"Peter would always stop and give a £10 note to someone asking on the street. He was one of the great givers. He tucked away a few quid on the old punting, as we all know, but when it came to generosity to others, he was quite exceptional."

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The Front Runner is our unmissable email newsletter available exclusively to Members' Club Ultimate subscribers. Chris Cook, the reigning Racing Writer of the Year, provides his take on the day's biggest stories and tips for the upcoming racing every morning from Monday to Friday. Not a Members' Club Ultimate subscriber? Click here to join today and also receive our Ultimate Daily emails plus our full range of fantastic website and newspaper content.

Chris CookRacing Writer of the Year

Published on 1 April 2024inThe Front Runner

Last updated 12:59, 1 April 2024