Jan Vokes is the type of woman who goes unnoticed on the street. Jan left school at the age of fifteen, as did most of her neighbors in the Welsh village of Cefn Forest. She earned a living as a barmaid and cleaner but was determined to accomplish more. “I was always somebody’s daughter, somebody’s wife, somebody’s mother. I wanted to be myself,” she declares.
The realization of Jan’s dream is the subject of Louise Osmond’s rousing documentary “Dark Horse”. Jan, along with her husband Brian and a number of fellow villagers, had the audacity to believe they could breed a thoroughbred racehorse and compete in a sport normally reserved for the elite.
The journey begins when Jan forms a racing syndicate with her fellow villagers. They agree to pay a small amount each week in exchange for a share in ownership. Jan and Brian successfully breed a mare and the resulting foal is raised in a makeshift stable in their backyard. The horse, a beautiful golden chestnut named Dream Alliance, shocks the racing establishment when he impertinently trounces the competition to win a number of races.
The inherent snobbery of the racing crowd and the way Dream Alliance functions as a surrogate for his owners forms the subplot of “Dark Horse”. The language a trainer uses to describe Dream Alliance (streetwise, scrappy, a snot-nosed kid) reflects attitudes toward the working-class. Certain racing commentators, as Jan relates, refused to discuss Dream Alliance on-air because he was “not a thoroughbred” (of the right sort, one might add). Writers dubbed him “Slumnag Millionaire”. The music used on the soundtrack also emphasizes class differences; classical music for the aristocrats, Welsh folk music for the commoners.
Osmond’s film demonstrates that no human being is really “common”, however, and the indomitable spirit of Jan and her fellow owners radiates from the screen. The character of Dream Alliance is also captured, the camera frequently honed in on his expressive eyes (Osmond referred to Dream Alliance as “the Gregory Peck of the horse world”). Although every shareholder received a return on his investment, money was not the ultimate prize for Dream Alliance’s owners. The community pride they experienced was priceless.
“Dark Horse” was released in 2015. The reason this documentary is rated PG is a mystery to me; “Dark Horse” is suitable for all audiences. Available on Amazon Video and DVD, I watched the film at my own expense. Review posted on 12/30/2017.