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|Born||3 March 1918|
Newcastle, County Down, Ireland
|Died||29 July 2015 (aged 97)|
|Alma mater||Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil|
(m. 1947; her death 2010)
Sir Peter O'Sullevan CBE (3 March 1918 – 29 July 2015) was an Irish-British horse racing commentator for the BBC, and a 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 described some of the greatest moments in the history of 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 Newcastle, County Down before returning as an infant to his parents' home at Kenmare, County Kerry but brought up in Surrey, England. He was educated at Hawtreys, Charterhouse, and later at Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.
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O'Sullevan was involved in some of the earliest television commentaries on any sport in the late 1940s and made many radio commentaries in his earlier years (including the Grand National before it was televised for the first time in 1960). On television, he commentated on many of the major events of the racing year, including the Cheltenham Festival until 1994, The Derby until 1979, and the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood until he retired in 1997. During his career, he commentated on around 30 runnings 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 on the Grand National, O'Sullevan commentated on numerous historic victories. These included Bob Champion's run on Aldaniti in 1981 after recovering from cancer, 100/1 outsider Foinavon's win in 1967, and the three-times winner Red Rum in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also commentated on the 1993 Grand National, which was declared void after 30 of the 39 runners failed to realise there had been a false start, and seven went on to complete the course. As the runners approached the second-last fence in the so-called "race that never was", O'Sullevan declared it "the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National."
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 was also a racehorse owner, including of 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 (then Vernons Sprint) in 1966 and 1967. Another 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.
After his retirement, O'Sullevan was 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 (run at the Cheltenham Festival) was named after 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.
- Dietz, Andrew. "Legendary race-caller Sir Peter O'Sullevan dies". Racing Post. Retrieved 5 March 2016.
- "O'SULLEVAN, Sir Peter (John)". Who's Who. December 2011. Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- "Sir Peter O'Sullevan: 'Voice of Racing' dies aged 97". BBC. 29 July 2015. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
- "Sir Peter O'Sullevan, former BBC racing commentator, dies aged 97". The Guardian. 29 July 2015. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
- "Sir Peter O'Sullevan profile". Grand National Legends. Retrieved 14 April 2012.[permanent dead link]
- Sir Peter O'Sullevan dies of cancer, Daily Mirror. Retrieved 30 July 2015.
- "Sir Peter O'Sullevan – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 29 July 2015. Retrieved 30 July 2015.