Cup much ado about
something for SoCal ‘voice’

Jul 4, 2006 1:16 AM

With apologies to William Shakespeare, the World Cup is much ado about nothing-nothing. At least that’s the general consensus in America.

But across the pond, soccer, or football is it is called, is an all-encompassing sport, spawning fanaticism that at times begets violence.

When he was a boy, Trevor Denman wanted to be a jockey, but he outgrew that dream. The native of Durban, South Africa, never lost his passion for soccer, however.

Now one of the world’s premier race callers who has plied his challenging trade in Southern California for more than two decades, the 53-year-old Denman invariably watches soccer in his booth between races when it’s on TV, and has barely missed a second of current World Cup action during his customary break since Santa Anita’s meet ended on April 23.

"Outside of racing, soccer is my favorite sport, by far," said Denman from his farm in Minnesota’s oldest community, a town of 2,400 called Wabasha, where the 1993 movie, "Grumpy Old Men," was filmed.

"I’m a bit of a fanatic, actually, like people living here are during football season," he said. "Overseas, you grow up with soccer from the time you’re born, and if you’re English, whatever town you live in, it’s almost impossible not to be brainwashed from a young age and become a supporter. If you’re born and raised in Newcastle, for example, you’re behind Newcastle all the way. There’s no option.

"At least in America, you have a few choices, but not there," Denman continued. "It’s too fanatical. The actual fighting by those fans known as hooligans is obviously bad, but like anything else, it’s probably only one percent who go to those extremes. But it is very much a way of life. Fans stick together. They walk into a pub and support whatever pub they’re in, because it’s impossible not to.

"You can’t really say that about sports in the United States," he added. "If you’re a Minnesota Vikings supporter and you’re in Wisconsin where it’s overwhelmingly Green Bay territory, you can cheer for Minnesota and be quite safe. But that’s not the case in England when a soccer match is on. You support the locals and that’s it."

Denman, who recently returned to Minnesota after spending five weeks in South Africa tending to his ailing mother, thinks America’s interest in soccer has increased significantly in recent years.

"It’s very hard to change tradition, isn’t it?" he said. "It’s like beer. Are you going to come along and knock Budweiser off its perch? I don’t think so. It’s too much ingrained. But soccer interest has changed tremendously. Just the television coverage in the U.S. from 20 years ago is dramatic. I left South Africa in 1983 and until we had the World Cup in LA in 1994, there were 11 years when I was totally blanked out of soccer. You couldn’t read about it in the newspapers, and obviously it was not on TV.

"But since ’94 to now, which is only 12 years, I mean, wow!" Denman said. "We’re getting all 64 World Cup games. The Fox soccer channel is totally dedicated to soccer. ESPN on weekends has at least one game, so I think it’s made major steps in the last 16 years, anyway. And kids are playing it much more now. Will it ever indent on football and baseball? No, I don’t think so, but it’s definitely going to move up the ranks."

Denman, who has revolutionized race calling since he began at Oak Tree in 1983, is looking forward to his return behind the mike when Del Mar starts its 43-day run on July 19. Having trained to be a jockey has given him the uncanny knack of picking up a race’s winner often as early as the three-eighths pole.

In the meantime, Denman thinks the World Cup champion will be either France or host Germany.

"One of those two will win it, but it’s close," he said. "It’s like a horse race with a thrilling stretch run. Who will win the photo?"

The homestretch

”¡ Despite having to run his horses from a detention barn for 30 days through July 13, Doug O’Neill remains in a heated battle with Jeff Mullins for leading trainer at Hollywood Park. "We’ve had a handful of horses that didn’t eat up because of it," said O’Neill, who was given the ban by the California Horse Racing Board for excessive levels of TCO2 (milkshake) on Wisdom Cat, who finished last at 48-1 in the seventh race on May 27.

"It affects some horses, because there’s nothing like sleeping in their own stalls," he said. "My take on the suspension is that I respect the rules, I realize how privileged I am to race on this circuit and I just want to keep it going, whatever barn we’re running out of. We’re blessed with great owners and we have unbelievable help. All our horses look great and they run consistently well."

”¡ Greg Gilchrist has nominated last year’s champion sprinter Lost In The Fog to the July 15 Smile Sprint at Calder.

"He won the Carry Back against 3-year-olds there last year," said Gilchrist, who has never raced Lost In The Fog in Southern California, but said there was a slight chance he could run at Del Mar in the Pat O’Brien on Aug. 20. "Del Mar has no 3-year-old sprint stakes at all; that’s why he didn’t run there last year," Gilchrist said, "and other races came up for him out of town, so that’s why he didn’t make it to Santa Anita or Hollywood."

”¡ Best baseball bet: Lay any number against the Phillies, who are in an unrelenting free fall with no effective pitching. This is a team that is behind before it takes the field. Stoic manager Charlie Manuel would do well to be out of town when he gets his inevitable pink slip, because if he’s at home, the obstreperous Philly fans might lynch him.

”¡.When the No. 13 overall NBA draft pick Thabo Sefolosha of Switzerland fails to connect on a shot, it will be a Swiss miss.

”¡ Here’s a sure-fire way to perk up interest in women’s soccer: Shirts vs. Skins.