'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
Jennifer Lawrence was among the stars allegedly hacked
peopleActress among those on 'master list' of massive hack
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Service
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Digital Marketing Assistant

£17 - 27k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Marketing Assistant to join ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor