There is nothing more the silver screen loves than an underdog story, and the only thing better than a fictional ‘rags to riches’ is a real one. Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance is a documentary funded by the Channel 4 sister channel Film Four, that follows the story of a small mining village community in South Wales who bred a racehorse called, Dream Alliance and went on to astound the racing community.
Barmaid, Janet (Jan) Vokes is the woman who started this incredible story. She was inspired to breed a racehorse after overhearing a conversation about raising racehorses while working. After buying a mare and breeding it with a stallion, Dream Alliance was born in 2001. 23 villagers funded the horse’s training and upkeep by forming a syndicate and chipping in a tenner every week. Dream Alliance, after moderate success, won at Chepstow and again at the Perth Gold Cup. The next big competition was to be the Grand National when disaster struck and Dream Alliance sliced a tendon. As many will be aware when a racehorse suffers a serious injury they are normally put down. However, the village pulled together the winning’s pot to fund stem cell treatment. DreamAlliance not only recovered but also raced again at the Welsh National winning it by three quarters of a length.
The film will resonate in today’s Britain, where this sport is still very much elitist. How many race winning thoroughbreds were brought up on an allotment! Owners and trainers were completely dumbfounded at Dream Alliance’s success. Dream Alliance is called a “working class horse” in the film.
The film was directed by Louise Osmand and produced by Judith Dawson. In an interview with Rialto Channel 39, the pair explained how they fell in love with the story: “it’s about a community that had lost everything, who felt forgotten by the world; it’s about the irrepressible spirit of barmaid, Jan who bred the racehorse, and who persuaded others to share the outlandish dream…above all it’s about the extraordinary bond the characters forged with a beautiful animal that seemed almost like something from a fable.”
It certainly struck a cord and won the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award in the World Cinema Documentary competition. Horse racing has always been a popular screen story to tell and has been explored numerous times.
Racing holds a special place in many people’s heart and the popularity of events such as the Cheltenham Festival demonstrates how much the sport means to people. The event will be held this March and “features a trio of major hurdle races,” according to Betfair. Cheltenham is one of the biggest races in the UK race calendar and attracts thousands each year with the dream of seeing a horse like Dream Alliance compete in real life.
There is something about Dream Alliance that elevates it above the normal racing stories. It is a story of both human and animal strength in the face of great adversity. This documentary is highly recommended and as good as any fictional rags to riches story you will see on the screen.
Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance is available on DVD
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