Film Review: ‘Dark Horse’

A working-class Welsh village teams up to breed and train a racehorse to compete against the horses of the elite.

Dark Horse follows the story of Jan Vokes, a barmaid residing in a working-class Welsh mining village, who, despite all odds, was determined to take on the rich man’s sport of horse racing.

Horse racing was always considered the “sport of kings” only reserved for the elite who could afford it. “These sort of people… They like to keep us commoners out, I think,” Vokes said in Dark Horse. After overhearing a customer’s account of owning a racehorse, Vokes created a syndicate of racehorse-ownership through her bar, where a collective of working-class folks contributed 10 British pounds (roughly $14USD) per week for the breeding process and the foal’s upkeep and training. The foal, bred from a hot-tempered mare and raised in a rather unimpressive Welsh village, was appropriately named Dream Alliance.

As racehorse-breeding is an incredibly grueling and expensive process, Dark Horse spoke of the trials and tribulations Vokes and the syndicate endured, one of the biggest being Dream Alliance’s injury in a 2008 race. After slicing his tendon, the horse’s racing future seemed bleak and he was consequently going to be euthanized. However, a relatively new stem cell treatment allowed him to recover and race again. This procedure was not in vain—ridden by Tom O’Brien, Dream Alliance went on to win the 2009 Welsh Grand National, a steeplechase in Great Britain. The epitome of an underdog, Dream Alliance’s humble origins and successful training gave the syndicate significant media coverage.

The documentary, directed by Louise Osmond, is folky, charming account of an unimpressive-looking racehorse from a small town in Wales, and emphasizes the notion of being an underdog. “All through my life, I’ve never really been me,” Vokes said in the documentary, describing how she was always confined to the roles of a daughter, sister, and mother. Through the Dream Alliance collective and the support of her family and village, Vokes was proudly able to achieve something of her own. 

Check the trailer for Dark Horse below.

Photos from the Dark Horse film’s official Facebook page.

 

Thoroughbred Stock Exchange hosted a special screening of the film at Regal Union Square. Following the screening guests celebrated at The Headless Horseman and enjoyed Dark Horse wine.

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