Sir Peter O'Sullevan (born 3 March 1918) is an Irish retired horse racing commentator for the BBC and correspondent for the Press Association, Daily Express and Today. He was the BBC's leading horse racing commentator from 1947 to 1997, during which time he memorably described some of the greatest moments in the history of Britain's most popular race, the Grand National.
The son of Colonel John Joseph O'Sullevan DSO, resident magistrate at Killarney, and Vera (née Henry), Peter O'Sullevan was born in Kenmare, Ireland, and educated at Hawtreys, Charterhouse School, and later at Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.
O'Sullevan was involved in some of the earliest television commentaries on any sport in the late 1940s, and also did many radio commentaries in his earlier years (including the Grand National before it was televised for the first time in 1960).
On television, he was the voice who guided viewers through many of the biggest events of the racing year, from the Cheltenham Festival (until 1994), to the Grand National and Epsom Derby (until 1997), Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood. During his career, he called around 30 renewals of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris and racing from the United States and Ireland as well as trotting from Rome during the 1960s.
During his 50 years of commentating the world's most famous steeplechase, the Grand National, O'Sullevan called home numerous historic victories. These included Bob Champion's heroic run on Aldaniti in 1981 after recovering from cancer, 100/1 outsider Foinavon's remarkable win in 1967, and the three-times winner Red Rum in 1973, 1974 and 1977. Perhaps one of the most infamous Grand Nationals he was involved in was in 1993, which was declared void after 30 of the 39 runners failed to realise there had been a false start, and seven even went on to complete the course. As the runners approached the second-last fence in the race that never was, O'Sullevan declared it "the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National." His lucid explanations and observations of the unfolding events only served to help cement them as historic moments in sporting history.
O'Sullevan became known as the "Voice of Racing". In a television interview before his 50th and last Grand National in 1997 he revealed that his commentary binoculars came from a German submarine. He was knighted the same year - the only sports broadcaster at that time to have been bestowed that honour.
O'Sullevan is a successful racehorse owner, including Be Friendly who won the King's Stand Stakes at Ascot, and Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp. He was twice successful in the Haydock Sprint Cup in 1966 and 1967. Another popular horse he owned was Attivo, whose victory in the 1974 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival was described by O'Sullevan as the most difficult race to call. After passing the line, O'Sullevan uttered: "And it's first Attivo, owned by, uh, Peter O'Sullevan... trained by Cyril Mitchell and ridden by Robert Hughes."
Attivo also won the Chester Cup and the Northumberland Plate during the 1970s. O'Sullevan's final race commentary came at Newbury for the 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup, and he visited the winners' enclosure as a winning owner in the race which followed courtesy of Sounds Fyne's victory in the Fulke Walwyn Chase. He was succeeded as the BBC's lead commentator by Jim McGrath.
Since his retirement, O'Sullevan has been actively involved in charity work fundraising for causes which revolve around the protection of horses and farm animals, including the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Compassion in World Farming.
The National Hunt Challenge Chase Cup (ran at the Cheltenham Festival) was named for him in 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday.
In 2010, Aintree Racecourse named O'Sullevan as one of the eight inaugural "Grand National Legends". His name is inscribed on a commemorative plaque at the course, alongside the likes of Ginger McCain and Captain Martin Becher.