Film Review: Dark Horse

Is the world news getting you down? Do you need to recharge your batteries? This is a documentary film to bring you right back up again! It is one of those gloriously uplifting stories about the most unlikely underdog triumphing over the favoured elite.  A barmaid called Jan Vokes, in a small town in Wales, decided to breed a race horse. Jan had been successful in breeding racing whippets so why not a horse?  She worked evenings in a pub and as a cleaner in a large grocery store during the day.  One night she told the pub owner she wanted to breed a racehorse and so the amazing “nags to riches’ story, the true story,  of Dream Alliance began. 

The Welsh mining town was a downtrodden corner of the world with most of the coal mines closed and many people out of work and out of dreams. But a group form a syndicate and they agree to each pay £10 (about 14 dollars) a week to fund this project.  They find a mare and then a stallion and in due course they have their racehorse.  He does not start out with much and is raised in an allotment (a small fenced property where people would usually grow vegetables or keep chickens). When he is old enough he is taken on by a respected trainer who is highly dubious that the horse will ever amount to anything.  His initial races are not too bad but the trainer feels he is not really fast enough.  But then….

Sitting in the audience we know this horse is going to come through.  He has courage and he’s a fighter!  The syndicate has given him a name: Dream Alliance. For all of them owning a race horse is a dream and it has come about because they formed an alliance.  

Dream, as they call him, starts to win and to win big.  The syndicate are over the moon and the whole village takes pride in this brought-up-on-the-allotment horse. At one race one of the syndicate members goes to the race course entrance with his own beer and sandwiches in a plastic bag. He is stopped and told he cannot bring that in.  “I’m an owner” he says proudly and they stand aside to let him through.

Britain is a nation that still has a class system. This exists in many other countries but in England it is clearly defined by the way people speak, by their accents.  The upper class elite who customarily are the race horse owners have a particular way of speaking that immediately identifies them as being from a ‘well to do’ class. The syndicate from Wales all speak like working class Welsh.  So when he says: “I’m an owner.” The security guards will have been very surprised.

Dream goes to greater and greater success as a steeplechase racehorse.  But then disaster strikes. He goes down in a race. He is injured. Badly injured. The emergency crew brings a screen and puts it up around him. This is a sign that they will put the horse to death.

But not this time. Dream has a second chance. A new experimental therapy can be tried; stem cell treatment for his torn ligament. It will cost a huge amount for the syndicate £20,000!  By now Dream has won over £100,000. The syndicate decides that the money belongs to the horse and so they spend it on the treatment to see him free from pain and healthy. Never mind if he will ever race again. The pub owner, who is one of the syndicate, said he went to his parents’ grave on Christmas Eve and asked them for a miracle. And he got it. Dream recovered. And he returns to race. He was the first race horse to come back to racing after stem cell treatment.  Dream made stem cell treatment a reality for many horses after him.

Not only did he come back to race he came back to win! He won the Welsh Grand National! The Welsh village he grew up in could not have been prouder. This horse recovered not only himself but the pride of an entire village. 

This is a marvellous documentary film directed by Louise Ormond with actual footage of Dream and interviews with the syndicate owners.  It is exciting, heartrending, and heartwarming. Even if you don’t know a horse or care about horses you would love it. If you do love horses then….well this is a movie you must see.

This film won the ‘Audience Favourite ‘award at Sundance in 2015.  I saw it at the local film club screening of Toronto International Film Festival films from the previous year. I cried. I laughed. I loved it. I do not know if it is available on Netflix but it is worth searching for.


Here is a video clip of the movie trailer.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. terry says:

    It’s a GREAT movie. It’s on NETFLIX UK but maybe not anywhere else yet. It’s out on dvd in the US this month I think…


    1. anne leueen says:

      Thanks! I’ve had a couple of people ask so I will put that info on my Facebook page Horse Addict Leueen. I thought it was a marvellous film!


  2. Well written… Piqued my interest… Will search Netflix!


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