Keith Knight gives his controversial view on TV race readers
Keith Knight with his personal view on TV commentators
It is an odd aspect of Mankind that certain people and events can often, after an unverified length of time, become imbued with a mystique that manifests into the stuff of legend. It is always been so.
The cult of Jesus Christ, in my opinion, is the largest and most well-known metamorphosis of a man who, through convenience and embellishment of the truth, alters in legend from mere mortal who lived and preached a peaceful life to become throughout history a superhuman son of a god with no name.
I may have offended a good few people there and will doubtless offend a few more once I get to my point. King Alfred is another character of history who is practically unknown to all but those with either a degree in history or who are dedicated viewers of Horrible Histories.
If you read an account of his life it is clear he was a good and brave ruler. He is known as the father of the English navy, he promoted education, he translated Latin into Anglo-Saxon, he made treaties and repelled invasions. Yet all he is remembered for is burning cakes, of which there is not a shred of proof.
I dare say, if we knew the truth of it, much of what we know about historical figures is only hearsay that has travelled down the ages through accounts recorded decades or centuries after everyone involved in those events were dead or simply recorded by word-ofmouth through the repetition of nursery rhymes.
Although there is no debate who the Voice of Racing was, and perhaps remains, I do not believe that Sir Peter O’Sullevan, as great and as good a man as he was, is the greatest commentator to grace our living-rooms.
Now I know in believing what many will consider heresy I offend perhaps the majority of racing enthusiasts but if you are as addicted to YouTube videos of races of the BBC era as I am there can be no argument that Sir Peter was not the faultless commentator as legend will have us believe. He was hesitant at times. Called the wrong horse at times. Called a horse finishing fast when in fact it was easily held by the eventual winner. He was, without doubt, the doyen of commentators but he is not the best, not by a long chalk.
The living rarely receive the credit deserving to them. A good man has to die before his peers honour him with the praise he should have received when able to appreciate what is his due. To this end I want to lavish praise on Andrew Hoiles, Simon Holt, and others too numerous to mention.
They are, to a man, quite brilliant. All men, you will doubtless be aware, with not a dulcet female voice to be heard, which in this age of sexual equality is an anomaly that is almost a breach of the Human Rights Act. Even the most sexist of sports, football, has embraced the female both in front of the camera and behind the mic.
Live and without rehearsal, when the unexpected can happen at any stage in a race, our present-day commentators make the complex appear child’s play. No commentator of any other sport is as fluid in their description of what is developing second-by-second in front of them better and with a higher degree of fluency than the racing commentator. What Andrew Hoiles achieves when commentating on big-field handicaps is a tour-de-force unmatched in human sporting history.
And as Andrew Hoiles is a better commentator than Sir Peter, Channel 4 and ITV, especially ITV, present racing with a quality and insight far beyond what the BBC ever achieved. Yes, the technology available today for ITV to play with was unheard of during the halcyon days of Sir Peter, Julian Wilson and Jimmy Lindley, but the overall presentation we receive is slicker, more informative and delivered with greater professionalism.
I will not contest that Sir Peter was a man of far greater depth than any of those who follow in his footsteps; his love of racing stemming from a love of horses of all kinds, as his charity work makes clear. His true legacy will not be his commentaries but the charitable donations to equine charities that his friends are determined to continue in his name.
Sir Peter O’Sullevan is, I believe, one of the greatest men to come to prominence through horse racing and if it were not for him perhaps Hoiles, Holt and others would not have been inspired to follow in his footsteps?