'Voice of racing' bridles at Grand National loss

Peter O'Sullevan is horrified that next Saturday's Aintree race will be the last to be televised by the BBC

Sir Peter O'Sullevan, television's "voice of racing" has strongly criticised the BBC for failing to secure the right to televise the Grand National. Sir Peter, one of Britain's most respected sports commentators, who covered the race for 50 years, said the broadcaster was failing in its duty as a public service broadcaster.

Next Saturday's race will be the last time that the Grand National will be shown on the BBC before Channel 4 takes over responsibility for broadcasting it.

Sir Peter, celebrated by Aintree racecourse where the race is held as a Grand National Legend, described the BBC's failure to keep the race as a "horrendous development of the Beeb abrogating what I consider their responsibility to cover a national event... If they are not there for celebrating national events, what are they there for?"

He added: "The National is a real people's race. And as a people's race what they [the BBC] are doing is even more unacceptable. They could say the reasons are fiscal but... it's a matter of allegiance and enthusiasm and they haven't got the enthusiasm... I don't think it has enough public responsibility."

The loss of the Grand National means for the first time commercial television has a monopoly on Britain's biggest horse racing events, including the Derby, Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival. Sir Peter said Channel 4 would do the race "extremely well" but that adverts would interrupt the "narrative".

Now retired, the 94-year-old will make his annual pilgrimage to Aintree next week. His passion for horses began when he was placed on one at the age of two. By the time he was six he was riding his own pony and at 10 he was a regular better on races. His dream was to become a jockey but instead he became a racing journalist, going on to commentate on the Grand National between 1947 and 1997.

A lifelong owner of horses, Sir Peter has had dozens of race winners over the years on courses around the country. His last horse, Exulto, is now retired. Speaking from his Chelsea apartment in London, Sir Peter said: "If the opportunity arose I'd have another one like a shot. I feel a bit lonely without a horse because I have always had at least one."

But it's not all been horses. He was devoted to his late wife Pat, with whom he spent more than 60 years. After decades together, Sir Peter nursed his wife while she had Alzheimer's until her death, aged 89, on New Year's Eve in 2009. The following year he lost his beloved poodle Topo, which he had once driven to Paris to see a veterinary specialist. Now he devotes his energy to raising money for animal welfare organisations.

He remains passionate about "the great race" and recalls how one of the "most exhilarating performances" he has seen came from a runner-up, Crisp, in 1973. "It was an absolutely staggering performance... You could see his limbs turn to jelly and he was wobbling and ran home well – but that little tiger, that little demon of a horse, Red Rum, he just ran him down." He thinks the 2011 winner, Ballabriggs, will be the horse to beat this year but added: "I've backed a horse called Cappa Bleu. I think he's got a good chance."

The quest for speed over the years has seen "former flat race horses who are much more fragile" taking part and Sir Peter said: "It's a very dangerous sport and inevitably there are going to be disasters."

Nine horses died in the past decade, making it the deadliest in the modern history of the race, and the set field of 40 runners, introduced in 2000, has made it more crowded and dangerous, claims Animal Aid.

Describing the deaths of horses as "the unacceptable face of racing" David Muir, the RSCPA's equine consultant, said: "This race is always going to have a higher risk factor than a normal race, which has eight to 10 horses." A number of specially trained equine RSPCA inspectors will attend this year's event for the first time.

Suggested Topics
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
News
news
News
peopleCampaign 'to help protect young people across the world'
Life and Style
tech

News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

News
i100
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Business Development and Analytics - TV

competitive benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Outstanding analytic expertise is req...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Business Development Manager Content/Subscriptions

£50k + commission: Savvy Media Ltd: Great opportunity to work for a team that ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker