James Lawton: Voice of Racing tells it straight from his old horse's mouth – thoroughbreds are born to run

O'Sullevan's point is that the most reluctant participants in a world without the Cheltenham Festival would be characters like Attivo

When Sir Peter O'Sullevan arrives at Cheltenham this week, having at the age of 93 driven down briskly from his flat in Chelsea, there is a very good chance he will be confronted by something rather less than he would desire.

It will be someone carrying a placard in the shape of a tombstone and bearing the name of one of the 32 horses who have died at the course over the last 10 years.

This will not be a meeting of minds. Sir Peter, one of the most relentlessly courteous men on earth, is unlikely to engage in any ferocious public debate but his defence of the greatest jump meeting of them all is no less intense or resolute for this.

When you outline the case of Animal Aid's horse racing consultant Dene Stansall, one of O'Sullevan's deepest regrets is that his beloved Attivo, winner of the 1974 Triumph Hurdle is no longer able to join in the conversation.

"I know what he would say," O'Sullevan declares. "He would say, 'For heaven's sake, don't stop me racing.'" Such a viewpoint is unlikely to deflect the protests which will be expressed by 32 "tombstone" bearers and rotating eulogies for the fallen thoroughbreds.

Animal Aid announces: "We will be at Britain's most notorious death trap for racehorses to remind punters of the horses who have died at Cheltenham over the past decade. Sadly, horses are continuing to die in large numbers around the country.

"The British Horseracing Authority refuses to name or keep public count of these horses, so Animal Aid has taken on the role of bringing the truth to the public's attention. We look forward to the day that events such as the Cheltenham Festival, which put profits before animals' lives, are a thing of the past."

O'Sullevan's point is that the most reluctant participants in the new animal Utopia would be characters like Attivo, whose relish for running and jumping at this time of year in the valley in the Cotswolds brings an edge to life, a recurring reason to marvel at the courage and nerve of both horses and men, that is as deeply thrilling as it is unique.

Nor is this self-evident reality compromised by the ambivalence which is bound to come to even the most gung-ho enthusiast whenever they have to put the screens around a stricken horse and call for the vet.

Where O'Sullevan separates himself from protesters most emphatically is in their failure to understand the nature of the thoroughbred – and what he considers a hopelessly arbitrary set of priorities.

It happens, for example, that over the last decade or so the former Voice of Racing – who famously called without a hint of emotion the result of that Triumph Hurdle – has sent a steady stream of financial support to animal welfare through his Charitable Trust.

Among the six principal beneficiaries is Compassion in World Farming, which says: "Sir Peter's donations have been a real lifesaver, helping to jump-start the international campaign to halt the global growth of factory farming and to end the massive trade in long distance transport of farm animals."

O'Sullevan says: "There is no doubt we must stop abusing animals in the way we do. I feel the way we human beings treat animals is comprehensively unacceptable in every conceivable way. The way we farm them is becoming more and more unacceptable.

"Billions of chickens haven't got room to move. They have no more than a pocket handkerchief of space during their short existence. Horses being transported from Poland and Lithuania to the toe of Italy to be 'topped' is just appalling."

He says that the thoroughbred racehorse is by some distance the aristocrat of the animal world and, whenever the issue of whether he should race and jump or not is raised, always his thoughts go back to Attivo.

"When he was racing," O'Sullevan recalls, "Attivo was an absolute joy to be around. I would drive to see him at every opportunity and I was always filled with the greatest anticipation. You couldn't imagine a creature more alive and enjoying his life so much.

"Then he stopped racing and I put him out to his Elysian field, his great reward, and, you know, he became the most miserable bugger in the world. Every time he looked at me there seemed to be reproach in his eyes. It was as though he was saying, 'What have I done? Why are you punishing me?'"

The O'Sullevan trust has helped in creating better conditions for horses working brick kilns in Egypt and provided a way-station in Pakistan. He can still rage over the decision of a regiment of cavalry to leave their horses in Cairo, because of the cost of transport, when it returned home, and how the horses were sent off into the desert to die, without water and any other care.

"Animal welfare is a huge issue and I warm to all those who care about it," he adds. "But, no, I don't believe we have a problem of cruelty or neglect at Cheltenham. There are accidents, of course, and every one of them is regretted but where would we be if everything, however fine, was scrapped because there was an element of risk?"

It is a point he will not address directly to the men and women carrying the tombstone placards this week because there are some arguments you can never win – even with the help of a debater as formidable as his old mate Attivo.

Cheapjack cricket, day after day, has worn out Strauss

If andrew Strauss some time soon confirms the rumour that he has had enough of one-day cricket, its insane pursuit of the slow buck, we can only hope it sparks some reappraisal by the people who run the game.

We're not talking about some public relations-driven review of the current format of the World Cup, which is already under way in the form of the pruning of associate nations who have from time to time so enlivened matters, but the demands on seriously minded and talented cricketers like Strauss.

No doubt there are places for shortened forms of the game in the 21st century but their current, cheapening importance surely has to be cut back if cricket is to hang on to a competitive integrity already bludgeoned by cheating scandals.

When Strauss was leading England to Ashes victory he was the embodiment of a committed, intelligent captain who was also capable of outstanding achievement. Now he looks time-expired, frustrated and wondering about the point of it all.

Around the peak of his career the great Brian Lara reported how his love of the game was simply being burnt away. We didn't have to waste too much time identifying the problem. It is the same, you have to suspect, with Strauss as it was Lara: too much cheapjack cricket.

Lièvremont may have lost his head in turning on team

There are two great crimes a coach of any sport can commit. One of them is repeatedly to meddle with his team, and so erode its self-belief, and the other is to heap blame on his players when things go wrong.

In the wake of the heart-warming victory of the Italian rugby Azzurri, French coach Marc Lièvremont has to be found guilty on both counts. He also added another pinch of insult: the charge that his men were cowards.

"There is a certain form of cowardice," he declared in Rome. "When I speak to them, nothing happens – as usual. Some of the players maybe wore the French jersey for the last time." Some critics believe they hear the sound of Madame Guillotine clanking her way to the Stade de France in anticipation of possible disaster at the hands of Wales at the weekend. Someone will probably have to tell Lièvremont that it is him she has in mind. Who cannot say it is hardly before time?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz