Tony O’Hehir has been one of the most beloved voices in Irish racing for decades, but even he can be rendered speechless from time to time.
The commentator and journalist was handed the Contribution to the Industry Award at the recent Horse Racing Ireland end-of-year ceremony back in mid-December.
And though he has called some of the biggest races during his time in the comms box over the best part of half-a-century, O’Hehir was somewhat knocked for six by the announcement in Dublin.
“It’s an honour and a huge surprise. I went along to enjoy the evening and hadn’t a clue about what was about to unfold. It came as a very pleasant surprise,” he said.
“Racing has always been a big part of my life since I was a kid.
“I used to write the Form Book for the Irish Turf Club, started off doing course commentaries, point-to-point commentaries and graduated from there to radio and TV.
“I started working for the Racing Post in 1986 as their Irish correspondent. I haven’t looked back; time flies when you’re having fun.”
The son of a man who, for many of a certain generation, was the voice of Irish racing – Michael O’Hehir – Tony had inspiration close to home growing up.
And after a childhood spent at racecourses cemented a love of the sport in O’Hehir Jr, Michael quickly went from teacher to critic.
“I used to go racing with my father and started going on my own afterwards,” he continued.
“He set up the Irish Form Book back in the early ‘50s and I started doing a little bit of work on that.
“The homework was always important. He always said: ‘The day you think it’s easy is the day you’re going to make a mess of things.’ It’s always good to be a little bit nervous before a commentary, especially a big race.
“I wouldn’t say he was a harsh critic, but he would pass a few comments. Our voices were different, so it wasn’t as if we were exactly the same type of commentator.”
O’Hehir is nowadays lesser heard over the airwaves as he winds down his duties, and though he is not retired just yet, there is certainly scope to recall a few of his most memorable calls from a career that started back in 1969.
“I remember, in my very early days as a commentator, doing course commentary at the Curragh when Nijinsky won the Irish Derby (in 1970) and I’ll always remember the huge roar that went up from the crowd when he hit the front early in the straight,” he
“I did about 25 Aintree Grand Nationals as part of the commentary for BBC TV and radio – they were always exciting. They were the races that you really got nervous before, 40 horses coming charging at you.
“I’ve interviewed all the major trainers and jockeys of the past few decades. I remember being in Australia when Vintage Crop won the Melbourne Cup, the first European horse to win it back in 1993. But a lot of it is a blur at this stage!”