Keegan leads pursuit of Shergar

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For a contrived team-contest and sponsorship vehicle the Shergar Cup, pretty much a disaster in its inaugural running 12 months ago at Goodwood, is threatening to turn into an entertaining day at the races. The transformation has been wrought by the change of venue to Ascot this Saturday, the addition of Kevin Keegan before and during the afternoon's sport and of funky band The Brand New Heavies afterwards.

For a contrived team-contest and sponsorship vehicle the Shergar Cup, pretty much a disaster in its inaugural running 12 months ago at Goodwood, is threatening to turn into an entertaining day at the races. The transformation has been wrought by the change of venue to Ascot this Saturday, the addition of Kevin Keegan before and during the afternoon's sport and of funky band The Brand New Heavies afterwards.

Given that racing is very much a sport of individual effort, as highlighted this season by the performances of brilliant horses like Dubai Millennium, Montjeu and Giant's Causeway, the concept of overlaying on it a spurious team structure - in this case based on the nationality of the owners of the horses - was bound to be flawed. The loyalty of the overwhelming majority of racegoers is only to the horse that they have backed.

The first Shergar Cup was fiercely criticised from many points of view, not least the inflated entry charges for the public; the lack of cohesion and identity of the so-called teams; and the rather pompous self-importance surrounding announcements of its creation and progress.

Ascot has now bought the rights to the fixture and, not for the first time in the tenure of on-the-ball chief executive Douglas Erskine-Crum and his team, the course may well have backed a winner with Saturday's contest, nominally between Europe and the Rest of the World in the form of six 10-runner races. Sponsored purses to the tune of £400,000 have been found, with no entry fees for owners yet prize-money to ninth place. And Ascot has pegged ticket prices to those of a normal Saturday, with the most expensive at £16 and all accompanied under 17s admitted for nothing.

Two considerable assets are the facts that the charismatic Frankie Dettori has recovered from injury in time to act as riding captain for the Rest of the World and that Kevin Keegan has thrown himself so enthusiastically not just into his role as manager of the Europe squad but the whole day's activities. First up, soon after the gates open at 11am, he and the youth-team coaches from his old club Fulham will be running a free coaching session for kids aged from eight to 13. Officially it will be limited to the first 40 to turn up, but as most right-thinking youngsters would sell granny to a white slaver for time with the England football coach, Keegan hopes more can be accommodated.

For the racing purists the interest lies not so much in the horses - although the races look competitive and there may be one genuine potential star on view, the exciting young Godolphin sprinter Auenklang - as the riders. As an inter-owner contest the Shergar Cup is still flawed, for the lack of entries in a couple of the six races mean that horses may have to transfer allegiance to make the team numbers up. But as a novelty international jockeys' challenge it looks better, with six world-class riders in each squad.

Dettori (who qualifies for RotW because of his allegiance to Sheikh Mohammed's Dubai-based Godolphin) will be joined by the three-time Singapore champion Saimee, whose popularity at home is such that he received a standing ovation lasting an hour when he won the International Cup on the local favourite Ouzo earlier this year, riding for the first time in Britain; Japanese Masayoshi Ebina, second in last year's Arc on El Condor Pasa; as well as more familiar visitors, South Africa's Basil Marcus and the Australians Greg Hall and Damien Oliver.

Pat Eddery, still challenging for a 12th jockeys' title despite a recent lengthy ban, will captain the Europe team of regular rivals Richard Quinn, Kevin Darley, Mick Kinane and Johnny Murtagh, as well as the Italian wunderkind Mirco Demuro, three times his country's champion at the age of 21 and regarded as the new Frankie.

After racing, of course, there will be that concert. The whole extravaganza will be Keegan's final day off the leash before his duties with the England team begin again, starting with talent-spotting at the following afternoon's Charity Shield.

His love affair with racing started as a lad back in the Fifties, when he was taken to Doncaster to see the St Leger. He currently has horses in training with his old England colleague Mick Channon, his vice-captain on Saturday. "For me this is going to be like waking up and finding myself in heaven," he said, "both my passions combined in one day. I am really looking forward to working with kids in the morning and then putting on my manager's suit in the afternoon." Cup sponsors, the betting firm Blue Square, made Europe the 4-6 favourites when the preliminary entries were announced yesterday. "It would be nice to lift the trophy, " Keegan said. "It's something I haven't done for a while.

"I hope the team concept works. Although football is most obviously a team game, when I used to go out to play for England against Berti Vogts, who was man marking me, the first thing I had to do was win that individual battle. So I think the same sort of thing could work in reverse.

"Even if there are areas that can be improved in future, there seem to be many positive points surrounding the day. But in the end, it is the public who will decide if it is to become a success. Like with any football club, they will vote with their feet."

Comments