ReelBob: ‘Dark Horse’

By Bob Bloom

If “Dark Horse” were a work of fiction, it would be criticized for being too unbelievable and clichéd.

Who would accept a story about a group of regular folks from a small Welsh town who form a syndicate and, with very little money in racing terms, breed themselves a champion horse?

But, as the cliché goes, truth is stranger than fiction, and the events in this 85-minute documentary will inspire and lift your spirits.

At bargain-basement prices — each syndicate member contributed 10 pounds per week — these inexperienced enthusiasts mated two run-of-the-mill horses that bred a foal the owners named Dream Alliance.

These dreamers, through perseverance and optimism, convinced a training facility to take in Dream Alliance and prepare him for racing.

“Dark Horse” is not so much about Dream Alliance as it is about the impact the horse had on its owners and the town.

Cefn Fforest was a mining community where going into the pits was the main source of income for townspeople and revenue for the area.

The village, one of the poorest in Wales, was brought together, when Jan Vokes, a barmaid at a local working men’s club, overheard a member talking about the time he owned a share of a racehorse, and she was inspired to enter the “sport of kings.”

Vokes recruits her husband, Brian, and Howard, the former racehorse share owner, who also happens to be an accountant. They get more than 20 others to invest and buy a thoroughbred mare and pair her with an aging stallion.

The result is Dream Alliance, who surprises everyone with his grit and determination on the track.

Writer-director Louise Osmond spends the bulk of the film with these friends who speak with affection and love not only about Dream Alliance, but each other.

The horse is the agent that unites them as he goes beyond the expectations of everyone — owners, trainers, bookies and the racing world in general — to become a contender and fan favorite.

And in a sense, “Dark Horse” is a movie about the perception of class barriers, which, to this day, is still an issue in Great Britain.

Racing is considered a sport for the gentry and well to do. That a group of working-class individuals would not only climb that barrier but also have a horse that would show up well-bred thoroughbreds was a bit of a shock.

Yet, the success of Dream Alliance did not change the people of Cefn Fforest, who remained close, down-to-earth and humble individuals.

Even when tragedy struck their horse, the owners rallied around Dream Alliance and each other to save the animal, sparking an unbelievable comeback that is the stuff of legend.

Even if you are not a fan of racing, “Dark Horse” will have you cheering and, at times, weeping for joy. It’s a feature that will lift your heart and give you hope.

Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and Rottentomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at bobbloomjc@gmail.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.

DARK HORSE
3½ stars out of 4
(PG), disturbing images, language

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