Susan Granger’s review of “Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Set for release on the day before the Kentucky Derby, Louise Osmond’s uplifting, feel-good film shows how sometimes ordinary gals-and-guys can not only compete but win at the elitist “sport of kings.”
The story begins when a middle-aged barmaid, Janet Vokes, in a South Wales workingman’s pub gets an over-the-rainbow notion to breed a steeplechase racehorse. Knowing, she’ll need financial support, she rallies her friends and neighbors, including a local tax adviser, Howard Davies, who forms a “syndicate.”
Together, they raise the money necessary to buy Rewbell, a brood mare, and find a promising, yet inexpensive stud, Bien Bien. Then they patiently wait for the scrappy foal – named Dream Alliance – to be trained. While Dream’s first races against thoroughbreds aren’t spectacular, he becomes a serious contender, finishing second in Newbury’s Hennessy Gold Cup, then actually winning the Perth Cup.
What could be an insurmountable problem occurs when Dream Alliance severs a tendon, and the owners must decide whether to put him down or fork over more of their hard-earned cash for expensive surgery. The outcome is obvious when Dream Alliance wins the Welsh Grand National at odds of 20-1.
It was the former coal-mining community’s resolute tenacity that intrigued British director Louise Osmond (“Deep Water”) and inspired this documentary that’s peppered with talking-head interviews.
“I knew nothing about racing,” Vokes admits. ”I did know these well-to-do people like to keep the sport to themselves.”
Indeed, when one member of the syndicate tries to bring a brown-bag lunch to the racecourse, he’s turned away at the gate.
“’Dream’ took us to places you couldn’t even imagine,” muses Davies. “We actually broke the mold…It’s elating when you can do something, particularly when no one gives you a chance.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Dark Horse: The Incredible True Story of Dream Alliance” is an inspirational 6, a defiant, rags-to-riches equine tale that’s patched together from archival footage.