This is a great story: in 2000, an unlikely group of Welsh villagers decided their destiny was to become racehorse owners. The problem? They had little cash and zero experience.
Louise Osmond’s punch-the-air documentary tells how a ragtag syndicate of 30 locals in a working men’s club, led by a plucky barmaid, Jan, and an unhappy former tax adviser, Howard, bred the horse they named Dream Alliance. With each syndicate member investing £10 a week, they raised the animal on a scrappy allotment before handing him over to a more experienced but sceptical trainer. They then watched – often from behind their fingers in the local pub – as Dream Alliance competed in the 2009 Welsh National and the 2010 Grand National, winning a total of £137,000 in prize money along the way.
The ups and downs – wins, losses, injuries, jealous locals calling Dream a ‘donkey’ or ‘sick note’ – give ‘Dark Horse’ its own rousing shape. There are also some brilliant characters here. Osmond stresses how both Jan and Howard were looking for something extra in their lives. Jan felt she’d always been seen as an appendage to someone else, first her brother then her husband (‘all through my life, I’ve never really been me’), while Howard was bruised from a mid-life career blip. Jan is especially endearing: ‘It got to the point where I wanted to go out and buy a burqa,’ she says, explaining how she dealt with newfound fame.
But just as Dream Alliance never quite escapes his lowly background, so ‘Dark Horse’ sometimes feels like a small-screen runner trying to jump big-screen fences: Osmond uses too much after-the-event reconstruction and her archive footage is often worryingly vague. It’s a winning yarn, but Osmond has to crack the whip to get it over the finishing line.