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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Horse Racing Commentator

Sir Peter O’Sullevan, Irish-British horse racing commentator for the BBC, and a correspondent for the Press Association, the Daily Express, and Today, is born Newcastle, County Down on March 3, 1918. He is the BBC’s leading horse racing commentator from 1947 to 1997, during which time he describes some of the greatest moments in the history of the Grand National.

O’Sullevan is the son of Colonel John Joseph O’Sullevan DSO, resident magistrate at Killarney, and Vera (née Henry). As an infant, the family returns to his parents’ home at Kenmare, County Kerry and he is raised in Surrey, England. He is educated at Hawtreys Preparatory School, Charterhouse School, and later at Collège Alpin International Beau Soleil in Switzerland.

In the late 1940s O’Sullevan is involved in some of the earliest television commentaries on any sport, and makes many radio commentaries in his earlier years (including the Grand National before it is televised for the first time in 1960). On television, he commentates on many of the major events of the racing year, including the Cheltenham Festival until 1994, The Derby until 1979, and the Grand National, Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood until he retires in 1997. During his career, he commentates on around 30 runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris and racing from the United States and Ireland as well as trotting from Rome during the 1960s.

During his 50 years of commentating on the Grand National, O’Sullevan commentates on numerous historic victories. These include Bob Champion‘s run on Aldaniti in 1981 after recovering from cancer, 100/1 outsider Foinavon‘s win in 1967, and the three-times winner Red Rum in 1973, 1974 and 1977. He also commentates on the 1993 Grand National, which is declared void after 30 of the 39 runners fail to realise there had been a false start, and seven go on to complete the course. As the runners approach the second-last fence in the so-called “race that never was,” O’Sullevan declares it “the greatest disaster in the history of the Grand National.”

O’Sullevan becomes known as the “Voice of Racing.” In a television interview before his 50th and last Grand National in 1997, he reveals that his commentary binoculars came from a German submarine. He is knighted the same year – the only sports broadcaster at the time to have been bestowed that honour. He is also a racehorse owner, including of Be Friendly, who wins the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot, and Prix de l’Abbaye de Longchamp. He is twice successful in the Haydock Sprint Cup (then Vernons Sprint) in 1966 and 1967. Another horse he owns is Attivo, whose victory in the 1974 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is described by O’Sullevan as the most difficult race to call.

Attivo also wins the Chester Cup and the Northumberland Plate during the 1970s. O’Sullevan’s final race commentary comes at Newbury Racecourse for the 1997 Hennessy Gold Cup, and he visits the winners’ enclosure as a winning owner in the race which follows courtesy of Sounds Fyne’s victory in the Fulke Walwyn Chase. He is succeeded as the BBC’s lead commentator by Jim McGrath.

After his retirement, O’Sullevan is actively involved in charity work, fundraising for causes which revolve around the protection of horses and farm animals, including the International League for the Protection of Horses (ILPH), the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre and Compassion in World Farming. The National Hunt Challenge Chase Cup (run at the Cheltenham Festival) is named after him in 2008 to celebrate his 90th birthday. In 2010, Aintree Racecourse names O’Sullevan as one of the eight inaugural “Grand National Legends.” His name is inscribed on a commemorative plaque at the course, alongside the likes of Ginger McCain and Captain Martin Becher.

O’Sullevan meets his wife Patricia, daughter of Frank Duckworth of Manitoba, Canada, at a ball in Manchester in 1947. She dies of Alzheimer’s disease in 2010.

O’Sullevan dies of cancer at his home in London on July 29, 2015.


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Birth of John Gubbins, Racehorse Breeder & Owner

john-gubbinsJohn Gubbins, breeder and owner of racehorses, is born on December 16, 1838 at the family home in Kilfrush, County Limerick. He is fourth son of Joseph Gubbins by his wife Maria, daughter of Thomas Wise of Cork.

Of three surviving brothers and five sisters, the third brother, Stamer, breeds horses at Knockany after distinguishing himself in the Crimean War. He dies at the age of 46 on August 7, 1879, after a horse falls on him while “schooling” over fences.

John Gubbins, after being educated privately, inherits the Knockany property from his brother and purchases the estate of Bruree, County Limerick. A fortune is also left him by an uncle, Francis Wise of Cork. Settling at Bruree in 1868, he builds kennels and stables and purchases horses and hounds. He hunts the Limerick country with both stag and fox hounds, and is no mean angler, until forced to stop by the operations of the Land League in 1882.

From his youth he takes a keen interest in horse racing. At first his attention is mainly confined to steeplechasers, and he rides many winners at Punchestown Racecourse and elsewhere in Ireland. He is the owner of Seaman when the horse wins the grand hurdle race at Auteuil, but sells him to Lord Manners before he wins the Grand National at Liverpool in 1882. Usna is another fine chaser in his possession. Buying the stallions Kendal and St. Florian, he breeds, from the mare Morganette, Galtee More by the former and Ard Patrick by the latter. Galtee More wins the 2000 Guineas Stakes and the St. Leger Stakes as well as the Epsom Derby in 1897, and is afterwards sold to the Russian government who later pass him on to the Prussian government. The Prussian government also purchases Ard Patrick just days before he wins the Eclipse Stakes in 1903, when he defeats Sceptre and Rook Sand after an exceptionally exciting contest.

Other notable horses bred by John Gubbins are Blairfinde, winner of the Irish Derby, and Revenue. In 1897 he heads the list of winning owners and is third in the list in 1903. In 1903 Gubbins is rarely seen on a racecourse due to failing health and sells his horses in training. In 1905, however, his health apparently improving, he sends some yearlings to Cranborne, Dorset, to be trained by Sir Charles Nugent, but before these horses can run he dies of bronchitis at Bruree on March 20, 1906.  His final instructions are, “As I aspired to breed fast horses, please see that my hearse is pulled at speed on my final journey.” Gubbins is buried in the private burial ground at Kilfrush.

In 1889 he marries Edith, daughter of Charles Legh, of Addington Hall, Cheshire. She predeceases him without issue. His estates pass to his nephew, John Norris Browning, a retired naval surgeon.