March 2, 2008 at 17:53 #6931Fist of Fury 2k8Member
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Peter O’Sullivan is 90 years old tomorrrow.
He is without doubt one of the greatest ammbasadors the sport has ever known.
The man deserves better than me blabbering on about him so I copied an article wrtten by Sue Mott it’s well worth reading:-
I was 29 when I met him again, after I had joined his newspaper, the Express, at a party he was holding at the Trocadero. I told him the story of our first meeting and he gave an absolutely astonishing reaction. He said: ‘Don’t think it will make any difference to your standing on the newspaper with me.’ I thought, ‘You stupid man’, and the next time I saw him was 1958, when he invited me to his suite at the Waldorf in New York to congratulate me for an exclusive story I had come across in America.
"He couldn’t have been more solicitous. ‘Have another gin. Come up and see my pictures in New Brunswick. Stay and have a holiday then go home on the Queen Elizabeth.’ I was becoming more and more agitated because my flight was leaving shortly and the Cheltenham Festival was fast approaching.
"He started to realise he had a nutcase on his hands when I insisted on going home straight away. I just caught the flight and then the captain announced that due to a fuel shortage caused by a very adverse wind, we were going to have to go back to Newfoundland. ‘Ask them to take a chance,’ I begged. ‘I’m going to miss bloody Cheltenham.’ I only made it by five minutes in the clothes I stood up in. Touch wood, I was never late for a broadcast. And if you’re doing it for over 50 years, that’s not bad."
advertisementPerhaps as a legacy of his childhood illnesses, Sir Peter had never taken mortality too seriously. During the war, being unfit for service, he joined the Chelsea Civil Defence Rescue Service and scooted about among the dropping bombs in west London effecting life-saving activities where possible and noting wry signs on closed-for-the-duration shops saying, "No Business As Usual". "Wonderful spirit," he said.
This might be applied in particular to the young man who, amid the carnage, took delivery of his first racehorse to his flat in Chelsea, necessitating an eventful ride bare back to Richmond Park. A veil must be drawn over the subsequent career of Wild Thyme – alas more Elephant’s Foot, by nature – and it marked a period of sustained optimism at odds with the unfolding events.
"I did have quite an arduous apprenticeship as an owner," Sir Peter said. "In 15 years, I had 16 horses and not one in the first three. They were all reasonably priced purchases or rescue horses who did not repay the compliment by rescuing my impecuniousness.
"But I was fortunate – twice. Be Friendly and Attivo were both stars really. Be Friendly was the champion sprinter of Europe. In 1966, as a two-year-old, he won an aggregate of Â£44,000, which was a record at the time. And I was lucky enough to breed Attivo because I bought his mother as a bride when she was carrying this potential disaster. He was as narrow as a plank with his feet turned out like Charlie Chaplin and the trainer said: ‘You’ll be lucky enough to run this one at White City.’?"
Yet Attivo was the horse who would give Sir Peter the most difficult experience of his commentating career. How he contrived to retain his poise and professionalism during the running of the 1974 Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle is a matter of mystery, but as Attivo crossed the line in advance of his rivals, the BBC commentator said in his usual, velvet, modulated tones: "And it’s first Attivo, trained by Cyril Mitchell, ridden by Robert Hughes, owned by Peter O’Sullevan."
Even the most sturdy of characters might have lapsed into a shriek of "Go on, my son!" at that point but Sir Peter looks positively horrified by the thought. "No, no, there’s absolutely no excuse for partiality because money’s involved in horse racing. Murray Walker could crack jokes in his commentaries because there wasn’t betting on motor racing in those days. Already I was the bearer of bad news 90 per cent of the time, to get things wrong would have been very serious.
"My great good fortune is that most of my mistakes in commentary were not made at a critical time." He managed also to make friends of a legion of horse people, from royalty to roguery, from Leopardstown to Ladbrokes to Lester. While we talked the phone burst into regular life, illustrative of a man both popular and employed, most lately on the arrangements for his 90th birthday party at Berry Brothers. He has worried down to the last detail about producing the right outcome, which can best be described as merriment.
This acute attention to minutiae underpinned his entire career as a commentator, with his uncanny ability to read a race more or less unsullied by error. But it does have the unfortunate side effect that at least two rooms of the large apartment he shares with his wife, Pat, are simply festooned, stuffed and piled high with virtually every communication and memento he has ever received. Who else has letters from their former prep school headmaster?March 2, 2008 at 18:30 #147900Peter Poston’s GhostParticipant
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A great commentator and a wonderful man.
Happy 90th to him and I hope he’s good for a few more yet.March 2, 2008 at 18:31 #147901CavParticipant
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Happy 90th Sir Peter, a true legend by any standard.March 2, 2008 at 19:02 #147903AngloGermanMember
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I rememaber Saturday afternoons in front of the telly in the 1970s. For a young racing fan like me, what a choice – ITV, with World of Sport fronted by Dickie Davies, handing over to John Rickman for the ITV Seven, where John Penney was the main man commentary wise, or would it be Auntie Beebs Grandstand? Frank Bough proceeding over matters with Julian Wilson presenting the racing. For me, the presentation may have been better by ITV, but (and nothing against John Penney here) I would always choose BBC – simply because of Peter ‘The Legend’ O’Sullevan. There was something about his commentaries, I just don’t know what it was, but it’s almost as if you put everything into a computer to create the perfect racing commentator – and out would come Peter O’Sullevan!!
Thirty years later, and as a wannabe commentator with just a few fledling races under my belt, O’Sullevan is my role model. OK, most of my commentaries have been in German, but O’Sullevan IS the voice of racing to me – the nearest Germany have to him is Manfred Chapman, but as good a racecaller as Chapman is (he’s the best in Germany by a mile), he’s not in the same class as O’Sullevan.
Happy 90th Sir Peter – To a Legend and the Voice of Racing!!
Darren – AngloGermanMarch 2, 2008 at 19:44 #147910% MANParticipant
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What more can be said?
A brilliant commentator and I’m sure both Lee and Richard will agree he still sets the Gold Standard to which the others aspire.
However being a commentator is only part of his wide skills. His knowledge of the sport is encyclopaedic and I would go as far as to say the few things he doesnâ€™t know about racing probably arenâ€™t worth knowing anyway.
Whilst people are quick to slag off tipsters with their premium rate phone line, he is a master tipster â€“ I am not one for blindly following tipsters but when he talks a horse up I certainly pay attention.
His contact book within the industry is one any racing hack would die for. The reason he had such enduring relationships with the great and good of racing was they trusted him.
Probably the one criticism that could be laid against him as a journalist is he would not betray a confidence, even if it meant missing a good story, it may go against what journalists are expected to do, however it speaks volumes about him as a human being.
His books are as easy to read as it was to listen to his commentaries. His book Horse Racing Heroes should be a mandatory read for all true racing fans. His autobiography, whist telling the full story, still shows his underlying modesty.
Last, but by no means least, his charity work has almost become his crowning glory, especially the money he has raised to help abused horses around the world.
I have been fortunate to meet him on a couple of occasions, albeit briefly, and always found him to be a courteous friendly man, with time to talk.
Despite being long past my teenage years I am not ashamed to admit that I have a signed photograph of him on my office wall at home.
His book recalls Racing Heroes, he is certainly one of my racing heroes.March 2, 2008 at 20:02 #147919chloedMember
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seeing this post has reminded me of a record i bought in 1983,called peter o’sullevan talks turf, a lot of it is devoted to peter talking about attivo and the his memories of nationals,think i will dig it out and brighten up a boring sun. nightMarch 2, 2008 at 20:18 #147924Ugly MareMember
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Oh, Happy Birthday to Peter.
The only commentator I’ve heard who could make a two horse race sound fascinating, and without having to shout.
A marvellous man all round I think.March 2, 2008 at 20:18 #147925Neil WatsonParticipant
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Really is amazing to think he is still going strong at 90 and long may his years defy him.
I have met him at Haydock a few years ago when he was leaving to his taxi or car to take him back down to London and i asked him for his autograph which he duly obliged and Sir Peter was very warm and friendly with an aura that makes you know that you are in the prescence of someone really special.
I cannot find the racecard which he signed but meeting him is more than enough and listening to his commenataries still makes the hairs on my neck stand on end.
Sir Peter you are a legend and have a very happy birthdayMarch 2, 2008 at 20:29 #147928vikingflagshipParticipant
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happy 90th sir peter o’sullivanMarch 2, 2008 at 20:40 #147930DroneParticipant
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All the best Peter, been a pleasure listening to you over all these years
Nice eulogies allMarch 2, 2008 at 21:57 #147949cormack15Keymaster
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No greater ambassador for racing in this country. Ever.
Many happy returns Sir Peter.March 2, 2008 at 23:57 #147959PAULCSMember
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You just know how special he was as a commentator because you can remember his great calls – Red Rum, Dawn Run, Desert Orchid etc…March 3, 2008 at 08:22 #147977HimselfParticipant
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The word legend is often over used – especially when referring to people involved in sport, but if anyone is deserving of that tag, then Sir Peter O’Sullevan is that person.
This is a man who has seen first hand all the great racehorses in the past eight decades, including Golden Miller winning the Gold Cup at Cheltenham.
He rates Arkle ("a freak") as the best chaser, and Sea Bird ("one helluva horse") as the best NH and flat horses he has seen.
Not only a man of great racing knowledge and insight, but also a very good judge.
Gambling Only Pays When You're WinningMarch 3, 2008 at 13:18 #148064FriggoMember
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I only got into racing a year or two before Sir Peter retired, but he’s still "the voice of racing", even to the likes of me. Such is the regard the sport holds for him.
Happy 90th Sir Peter, and to many more.March 3, 2008 at 13:19 #148066Gazs Way De SolzenMember
- Total Posts 2440
An absolute great, a fantastic guy.
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