Dark Horse (2016)
Dark Horse is a documentary for animal lovers everywhere. It's an earnest, heart-warming film about a courageous horse and loyal human beings. Loyal human beings may be the more remarkable concept.
It's about people who cared more about the finish line than the bottom line. Therefore, it's obviously not for everyone.
Dark Horse is the story of a horse in Wales, who became a fabled steeplechaser and symbol for a deprived community. He was named Dream Alliance, because he represented hope for the nearly hopeless.
Director/writer Louise Ormond captures the pulse of those in Cfen Fforest, former-mining village in Wales, and the locals striving to have something meaningful in their lives.
Jan Vokes, barmaid and cleaner at an ASDA supermarket, got an idea and over the bar she asked Howard Davies, one of her regulars, about breeding a race horse. He had a failed experience trying to raise a race horse.
Jan is an apt personality to tell the story of her and her horse's exploits. She is a middle-aged, down-to-earth woman with twinkles in her eyes. She is no-nonsense and articulate.
Jan got tax consultant Davies to help her create a "syndicate" of about 30 among the townspeople, who had to contribute 10 pounds a week to support their horse.
Jan bought the mare from a Welsh lad for 300 pounds. The breeding mare was named Rewbell and had lost her only two races. Jan got a deal to breed Rewbell with an American horse Bien Bien.
A certain presidential candidate probably would not allow a Welsh horse - even one "sired" by an American horse - into the USA. He only believes in welsh on business deals.
The foal from Rewbell was spindly and unimpressive. But it had a notable white blaze and white socks on his four legs. "We had a connection," says Jan. She made the horse promises that she wouldn't do anything he didn't want. To her, he was an equal and a member of her family. The syndicate named him Dream Alliance, and he took to people.
Jan and Davies were fortunate to get Philip Hobbs to train him, almost on a lark. Dream "wasn't very fast," Hobbs says. He was quirky. But Hobbs liked his spirit. And his spirit took them all on an incredible journey. Dream Alliance won the 2009 Welsh National.
Dark Horse is an incredible tale about luck and pluck. The horse takes his owners and supporters into places they would never be able to go without him. And when crisis comes, they stand with him.
The townsfolk in Dark Horse seem genuine and willing to discuss their rare and memorable experience. They're an amiable lot. Brian - Jan's husband - seems a worthy representative. He has toothless gaps in his mouth - and at one time remarks that he has left his teeth out. He adds a quality of pride without any vanity or ego.
Being from Philadelphia, I admit Dark Horse reminds me a bit of the exploits of Smarty Jones, a local hero.
I also remember when Barbaro died, several sports talk show hosts scoffed, "It's only a horse." Yeah, your braying is worth more than a champion.
Dark Horse speaks to those who know what makes a champion race horse. And how much affect it can have on some of us.