Saturday, 2 April 2016

A Horse of Hope

Brian and Jan Vokes with their race horse Dream Alliance
I was completely disorganized this year about watching films from the Hong Kong International Film Festival, but managed to catch one this afternoon.

Called Dark Horse, it's a documentary about a horse from a small Welsh town that manages to beat the odds.

Jan Vokes is a middle-aged barmaid who in 2000 decided to breed a racehorse. It turns out she knows a bit about breeding racing pigeons and whippets. But horses?

Dream Alliance didn't come from an impressive pedigree
While she's the driving force of the project, she rounds up 22 more people to chip in £10 a week for a year to train the horse and house it in proper stables.

But bear in mind this horse doesn't have a particularly impressive pedigree at all -- and his owners are working class people from a town where the coal mines shut down, and so economic prospects are poor.

And because it is a syndicate that put in money for the horse, Jan calls it Dream Alliance, a beautiful chestnut coloured horse. He's spindly at first and the trainers aren't sure he's built for speed.

However, in his first race he came in fourth, then third, second...

Everyone in the documentary recalls the events with such clarity and colour, though they themselves are interesting characters. Jan's husband Brian has lost some teeth and has many tattoos, another, Tony Kerby whips off his shirt when Dream Alliance wins a big race, while the other members of the syndicate are just chuffed to watch the horse run because he's become part of the family, representing the town.

The documentary by Louise Osmond also talks about the culture behind horse racing, that it is an aristocratic privilege mostly because it is such an expensive sport.

However the Dream Alliance syndicate breaks through these barriers and together with the horse with a scrappy personality, they make a name for themselves for about eight years and win £137,000 in prize money.

Jan was thrilled to accomplish something in her life
Along the way, viewers learn more about race horses, how they are trained, and how you have to completely trust an animal to do what you hope it will do.

Dark Horse is a beautiful story with so many twists and turns that you can hardly believe Dream Alliance and the syndicate went through all of those peaks and valleys.

Osmond tells the story wonderfully -- the cast of characters really tell the story so well, while there are a few reenactments of the early days. It's too bad some of the older footage is too blurry on the big screen, but you get the idea.

Nevertheless Dream Alliance is a metaphor for life -- as Howard Davies, one of the syndicate members says, "It's elation when you can do something when no one gives you a chance."

Dream Alliance member Tony Kerby enjoyed the ride
Heck if an animal with a dodgy background can come from behind and win big, why can't we humans do that too?

Dark Horse (2015)
Directed by Louise Osmond
Audience Award Winner at the Sundance Film Festival 2015

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