The Price Of Courage

Dark Horse (documentary)

Director: Louise Osmond
Interviews: Jan Vokes, Daisy Vokes, Howard Davies, Angel Davies
Composer: Anno Nikitin

Cinematographer: Benjamin Kracun

Sony Picture Classics
Rating: PG and for families but be aware of Welsh accent
Running Length: 87 minutes

Sundance Award Winner

Dark Horse is not the color of this horse, but rather a beautiful taffy-gold that shines in the sun and stands out in a crowd. In racing terms, a “dark horse” is one that looks as though it will always run at the back of the pack. In this real life story, “dark horse” takes on new meaning. The horse’s formal name is Dream Alliance and he comes from Wales.

The film begins about 2006, and is told in humorous clips by participants of the Alliance. Jan Vokes, with her husband "Daisy" Vokes had a desire to raise a racing horse, from choosing the brood mare and stallion, to raising the baby, begins the saga. This came from Jan's background of raising champion birds and then whippets. Owning a horse? They met with a consultant and his wife (Howard and Angela Davies) and decided to go for it. Howard's reactions to what happens is natural comedy.

Next, comes money and here was the idea: 40 people would put in 10 pounds each toward expenses and see what happens. Talk about a gamble. They got a brood mare, then a stallion, and then a baby horse with four white stockings and a white blaze on its face. The group debated on a name and came up with Dream Alliance. From then on, the audience is taken through basic training at a professional stable (where the owners and horse are treated as upstarts, and not really a part of the privileged inner circle of high bred racing, which means no person had a title.) Then, the racing starts and the group thought “oh, a few third or fourth places, just to get his name known,” but that thought went away in a hurry when Dream Alliance began to win and show endurance, personality and fearlessness. Win after win and all this takes the horse and owners to larger races until they are headed for the premiere race in the British Isles, the Grand National (think Kentucky Derby here.) Newspapers had a field day with this upstart horse, and headlines such as “Slum Nag Millionaire” or “Nags To Riches.”

Not only does “Dark Horse” give you a view of training and racing a horse, it gives you a look at horse racing styles in Great Britain. There are no starting gates as we know it, instead, anywhere from 10-30 horses and riders start going in a circle, that gradually unwinds and at the last possible moment, they start out---on grass. The Grand National will begin to show on American television in 2017, so American audiences can see what happens. Now, Dream Alliance, proved to be a jumper, too, with very long legs, so he was in a different type of race and that twice as hazardous. Which, as we see, can have its problems.

“Dark Horse” has humor, a look at racing society from the ground up, life in a small Welsh town, and the love of animals. Putting a horse down is non-existent. The commentary is natural and people speak what they feel with no fear of the camera. It’s like having a conversation in your living room---or neighborhood pub. “Dream Alliance” goes for everyone’s heart and you want to reach out and touch the big fellow on his nose.


Copyright 2016 Marie Asner