Posts Tagged ‘Thoroughbred racing’

Toni Collette

“DREAM HORSE” My rating: B-

113 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

The unlikely story of the prize-winning race horse Dream Alliance — bred and raised communally by the residents of a Welsh village — has already been the subject of the sublime 2016 documentary “Dark Horse.”

The new fictionalized version of his life, “Dream Horse,” isn’t nearly as good as the doc; still, it’s a solid example of feel-good cinema.

Dream Alliance was owned by a “syndicate” of two dozen store clerks, CPAs, retirees and other common folk in the tiny mining community of Cefn Fforest. Each chipped in 10 pounds a month for the animal’s care and training, and in 2009 the horse overcame what should have been a life-ending injury to win the Welsh National.

It’s like the very definition of feel-good.

The omnipresent Toni Collette stars as Jan Vokes, who toils as a grocery clerk during the day and a bar maid at night. While pushing pints one evening she overhears a barstool conversation featuring Howard Davies (Damien Lewis), an accountant who once was part of a consortium that owned a race horse.

Long an animal lover, Jan wonders what it would take to own her own race horse. She sucks the equally horse-crazed Howard into her scheme; his number crunching suggests that if enough locals chip in a few pounds every month they can afford to buy a mare, cover the fees to have her bred with a horse of quality, and raise their offspring in Jan’s back yard.

It’s the equine version of hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show.

What nobody expects is that after being farmed out to a professional trainer (Nicholas Farrell) their pony will actually start winning, much to the amazement of racing-world pundits who maintain the sport is only for London millionaires in Saville Road suits, certainly not for local yokels in worn tweed and muddy Wellingtons.


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dark“DARK HORSE”  My rating : B  

85 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Grand ambition, small-town eccentricity, class snobbism and gorgeous horseflesh collide happily in “Dark Horse,” a documentary guaranteed to charm every animal lover or anyone who ever cheered for the little guy.

Louise Osmond’s film follows the life and career of Dream Alliance, a wildly personable horse who rose from the humblest of origins to win the 2009 Welsh Grand National.

Of course, it’s more than just the story of an equine champion.  “Dark Horse” is also the story of a ragtag bunch of local folk who got it into their unsophisticated heads that they could pool their modest resources to break into a sport dominated by royalty and nobility.

It all began when Janet Vokes, a barmaid in an economically strapped Welsh mining town, overhead a pub patron talking about his frustrating and financially draining spell as part owner of a Thoroughbred race horse.  Janet — a hard-working gal who would often juggle several jobs — decided there was no reason why she shouldn’t realize her dream of owning a racehorse.

No reason except lack of money, access to horses and the knowhow to breed and train the noble creatures.

Apparently, she’s a hell of a saleswoman. She got her dubious husband Brian — round, bearded, toothless — to get on board and in short order had convinced a syndicate of townspeople to cough up 10 pounds a week each toward the project.

They found a Thoroughbred mare idling away in a nearby pasture, bought her for a fraction of the asking price, had her bred with a promising stud and…and the result was a foal they named Dream Alliance in honor of their little syndicate.  They found a professional trainer willing to take on their animal and damned if Dream Alliance didn’t start winning races.

Of course, in doing so the horse pretty much upended the hoity toity world of racing. A bunch of no-nothings from a crumbling mining burg produce a champion?  Unheard of.

Yet Alliance — a horse with a personality as strong as that of the legendary Seabiscuit — became a sensation. (more…)

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