Dark Horse is a horse story, but, in my book, a horse story is always a human story. In the case of Dark Horse, it is a documentary about a barmaid, Jan Vokes, in Wales who decides to breed a racehorse. She enlists the aid of other villagers for advice and to raise the money to breed a champion racehorse. The simple folk who help Jan are not interested in monetary rewards, although they would welcome them. What drives them is friendship and the desire to do something extraordinary that will forever be worthy of remembrance.
The group’s first challenge as investors in the racehorse is to find a mare for an affordable price, and then to find a stud horse to impregnate her with the goal of producing an exceptional racehorse. The result is the foal, which they name Dream Alliance. The next task is to find an experienced trainer to train a horse with no experience on the track, a formidable challenge.
The horse wins and loses races; but the townsfolk never give up on him. They identify with him and feel the joy of winning as well as the disappointment of defeat. When Dream Alliance has a physical problem, they do not abandon him. Rather, they seek ways to protect him even if it means he will race no more. When he wins the prestigious Welsh Grand National Race, an elite race on the horse racing calendar, they celebrate his victory, aware that Dream Alliance represents them, ordinary people who, through an extraordinary series of events, have emerged as true winners in life.
One of the joys of the film is its depiction of the camaraderie of the simple Welsh owners. They are in the horserace business because it allows them to dream of a life beyond the mundane. Being the owner of racehorse, from a psychological and sociological perspective, gives them a temporary way out of the humdrum life they lead, allowing them to experience something new and exciting. They don’t mind losing. They just want to enjoy the ride and the company of friends as they bask in the experience of racing horse ownership.
Against the background of this horse story is a narrative about status and class. The lower class owners of Dream Alliance, plagued by a bleak economic reality, encounter a cool reception from the upper crust echelons of “the sport of kings,” horse owners who devote vast financial resources to producing world-class racehorses. Only when Dream Alliance shatters all expectations do they grudgingly acknowledge the presence of these local yokels who are making race history.
In Jewish history there are a plethora of underdog stories in which the weak vanquish the strong. In modern times, the Six-Day War is the paradigm of unlikely heroes changing the course of history. No one expected the Israelis to win a battle against an array of Arab nations bent on destroying Israel, but they did.
Another classic underdog story is the narrative of Chanukah in which the Jews vanquish the superior military force of the Seleucid Greeks. On paper, the Jews had no chance of winning; but the Jews banded together and possessed a clear vision that enabled them to succeed despite the odds.
Winning battles over physically stronger opponents is one of many themes embedded in Dark Horse. But there are more things about which the film makes us think. It reminds us of the value of friendship, of the great things that can be accomplished when average people band together to achieve an uncommon goal, when egos are submerged for the good of all.