Title: Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story Of Dream Alliance
Director: Louise Osmond
Major Players: Jan Vokes, Howard Davies, Brian Vokes (as themselves)
Out Of Five: 3.5
Romantic stories have always gone hand in hand with The Grand National. OK, so it didn’t happen this weekend but who can forget Bob Champion and Aldaniti, or Foinavon, the 100-1 shot who won in 1967? Dream Alliance might not have made it past the winner’s post – at Aintree, anyway – but he was very much in their tradition. And then some.
Like the title says, it’s an incredible and true story. In the former pit village of Cefn Fforest, barmaid Jan Vokes persuaded 30 people to each pay £10 a week to help her realise her dream of owning a racehorse. They bought a mare with a truly terrible track record, got the stud fees on the cheap and the result was a gangling foal whose name became Dream Alliance as the result of a vote. His trainer didn’t expect much, but the horse proved to be a streetfighter and gradually started to bring in the results. And then came the Hennessy Gold Cup …….
The story is a gift to documentary maker Louise Osmond because it’s packed with characters, from Dream Alliance himself to the people from the village that invested in him. And it says a lot for her abilities as a film maker that they all seem so relaxed and natural in front of the camera. The unassuming but quietly determined Jan seems to have some kind of mystical connection with Dream (that’s what everybody calls the horse), while her husband Brian is more flamboyant, with his copious tattoos, bushy beard and evidence of extensive dental work. He addresses the latter at the end of the film and it brings the house down! Local accountant Howard Davies is quieter but no less dedicated to the horse: his emotional involvement is such that, even though he sees every single one of Dream’s triumphs, he can’t remember any of them. They’re either silences or complete blanks.
We all love an underdog story and this one has a little bit extra. Not only did Dream turn out to be unexpectedly successful, but he had the fairy tale effect of bringing the community together. For a village that had gone downhill after the pit closures, he was something positive for them to believe in. If they made money out of him, that was fine, but that wasn’t their main motive. Pride, belief and community were all far more important.
Class also plays a role in the story. The Alliance Partnership, as they’re formally known, always refer to themselves as working class and when they go to Dream’s first race, one of the group turns up with his sandwiches and beer in a Tesco carrier. When a steward tries to prevent him going in, he takes great delight in showing him his owner’s badge, which means he can go anywhere. They all know they’re unlikely racehorse owners, that they don’t fit in, but it doesn’t worry them. In fact, they see it as something of a victory in its own right.
Dream Alliance plays himself in the film as well and, although retired, the movie’s taken him back to winning ways. It won the Audience Prize in the documentary category at this year’s Sundance and it’s not hard to understand why it captured so many hearts. It’s a crowd pleaser made with genuine warmth, affection and humanity – regardless of whether you like horse racing or not!
Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story Of Dream Alliance is in selected cinemas from Friday, 17 April.