Duke of Richmond pays tribute to racing legend O’Sullevan

Sir Peter O'Sullevan at Goodwood for his 90th birthday celebration / Picture by Malcolm Wells
Sir Peter O'Sullevan at Goodwood for his 90th birthday celebration / Picture by Malcolm Wells

The Duke of Richmond has paid tribute to the legendary racing broadcaster Sir Peter O’Sullevan, who has died aged 97.

The Voice of Racing was a great friend and supporter of Goodwood racecourse, where his 90th birthday was marked with a special day in his honour in 2008.

The Duke said: “This afternoon I was saddened to hear the news of Sir Peter O’Sullevan’s passing. It is a big loss for racing, and his voice was the most iconic I can think of in any sport.

“He was a great friend of Goodwood, commentated here for many years and, after his retirement, we were delighted that he often joined us as a guest and to enjoy the racing. He opened our Sussex Stand in 1990.

“He will be greatly missed. My family and I send our deepest sympathies to his family and close friends.”

Goodwood honoured Sir Peter in 2008, to mark his 90th birthday, with the Sir Peter O’Sullevan “The Voice Of Racing” 90th Birthday Handicap.

Born on March 3, 1918, Sir Peter developed a boyhood passion for horse racing and his Goodwood experience stretched back to his youth, watching the action amid the throng on Trundle Hill. It was from that vantage point that he witnessed the great stayer Brown Jack win the 1930 Goodwood Cup.

He joined the Press Association as a racing correspondent in 1944 and began his broadcasting career in 1946. Sir Peter first worked at Goodwood as a race reader in 1951 and the following year he became the first BBC commentator to operate without a race reader as he went solo for the 1952 Stewards’ Cup.

Sir Peter, racing correspondent at the Daily Express from 1950 until 1986, was awarded the OBE in 1976 for services to racing, elected a member of the Jockey Club in 1982 and received his knighthood in 1997, the year he delivered his final commentary (the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury).

His enduring appeal and the affection in which he was held by racing professionals, as well as fans from The Queen to punters on the street, was confirmed by his appearance at number 16 in the Racing Post’s 100 Racing Greats published in 2003, sandwiched between no less a pair of racing legends than Sir Noel Murless and Michael Dickinson.

The Sir Peter O’Sullevan Charitable Trust, established upon his retirement in 1997, has distributed more than £4 million to six welfare concerns; Blue Cross, Brooke Hospital for Animals, Compassion in World Farming, International League for the Protection of Horses, Racing Welfare and the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre.

As an owner, he enjoyed success with the crack sprinter Be Friendly and reached a landmark 50th winner in December, 2001 when Never scored over hurdles at Ascot.

Sir Peter’s biggest jumping success as an owner came at Cheltenham when Attivo carried his colours up the famous hill in the 1974 Triumph Hurdle at The Festival, a race which he has described as the most difficult he ever called.

With typical professionalism and understatement, he relayed the information to BBC viewers: “And it’s Attivo first, trained by Cyril Mitchell, ridden by Robert Hughes, owned by Peter O’Sullevan.”

Sir Peter’s voice is inextricably tied to a host of the most memorable contests ever staged. At Cheltenham such as Arkle’s head-to-head with Mill House in the 1964 Gold Cup, and his famous Goodwood commentaries included the scintillating finish to the 1992 Sussex Stakes.

The latter contest between the previous year’s Sussex Stakes winner and champion miler Selkirk and the exceptional filly Marling, is one of the most thrilling races ever witnessed at the Goodwood Qatar Festival and it was Sir Peter who enhanced the excitement.

As the ultimately victorious Marling challenged the imposing Selkirk down the far rail, he relayed: “It’s Selkirk the leader as they race into the closing stages. It’s Selkirk with Marling fighting back. Marling is fighting back - is going to win it. Marling is going to win it at the line. Marling and Selkirk in a photo!”