'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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Detective Tam Bui works for the Toronto Police force
news
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Darrell Banks’s ‘Open The Door To Your Heart’
music
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

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick