Voice of racing runs his final furlong

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The Independent Online
Peter O'Sullevan, the "voice of racing", will commentate on his last Grand National today, after keeping punters across the land on the edge of their seats and enthralled by his "hectic drawl" for nearly half a century.

O'Sullevan, who first covered the race in 1947 and started "calling the running" two years later for BBC Radio, has brought his unmistakable voice to every National since the race was first televised in 1960.

As befitting an individual who has become synonymous with the sport, a bronze bust of O'Sullevan will be unveiled at the Aintree racecourse by the Princess Royal. The Princess will then join O'Sullevan in his commentary box for the race.

The Princess is not O'Sullevan's only royal fan: the Queen and the Queen Mother both wrote tributes to him in Coming To The Last, a book of tributes published to mark his retirement. Mary Robinson, the Irish President, also reminisces about Saturday afternoons listening to his voice on a crackling wireless with her father and brothers.

It is his "clipped, dark brown" voice that has made his commentary so instantly recognisable. Russell Davies described it as "perhaps the only hectic drawl in captivity", while writer Hugh McIlvanney is quoted as saying O'Sullevan is: "possibly the most accomplished reader of action operating on any sport in the English-speaking world".

Despite his wealth of experience, O'Sullevan admits to being nervous before the race. "It is something one looks forward to with as much trepidation as expectation. One is always very conscious of the enormous audience - it is not an easy assignment," he said yesterday.

The National is the most popular race in the country, attracting the largest gamblers as well as the punters who have a small annual flutter.

Simon Reeve