Welsh hero's fairytale that will resonate across racing; Lydia Symonds reviews the premiere of Dark Horse, which charts the emotional story of Dream Alliance.
IT COULD have been corny, cliched or cringe worthy, but Dark Horse is surprisingly real and raw. It is an against-all-the-odds story of 23 people from Cefn Fforest, a poor mining town in South Wales, who band together and breed Dream Alliance, send him to Philip Hobbs, and after an injury that threatened to end his career, win the 2009 Welsh National.
The film features a collection of interviews with many of the owners, led by the undoubted stars of the production, breeder Jan Vokes and her charming and toothless husband Brian, quirky montages, real racing footage and comical educational videos from times gone by, which interwoven with pictures of 'Dream' growing up on an allotment show the stark contrast of two worlds.
The syndicate members, in particular the Vokeses, are wonderfully frank, emotional and funny. They are the focal point and it is very much their story. It is a story that touches upon some wider issues, namely the longstanding generalisation racing is exclusive to the landed gentry and those from a working-class background have no place, and touches on - but does not dwell on - the struggles the Alliance Partnership faced when their horse was running at tracks like Newbury and Cheltenham.
The love these owners feel for their horse, who they had seen grow up on a sparse allotment at the foot of Welsh slag heaps, is shown with truth and sincerity, even if for some viewers it comes with an uneasy flipside.
At times the partnership are painted as the only owners to feel this kind of attachment to a racehorse, and while their bond with Dream Alliance is obvious, many an owner might argue with Brian Vokes's assertion that "to many people horses are an industry and when they can't race they go for meat or to riding schools".
With Aintree on the horizon, millions will tune into the Grand National because they enjoy the spectacle, but at the same time racing will have to overcome its annual battle with those who view the occasion as a soap box to preach about the cruelty of the sport.
It is hard to imagine that Dark Horse will change their opinion. But it does a fine job relating the tale of a group of people who saw racing as an escape and gave them a sense of belonging to a world of which they never dreamed they could be a part.
?Dark Horse, the extraordinary story behind Welsh National hero Dream Alliance, goes on national release a fortnight today