What is the Dream Alliance Story?

The barely credible story of Dream Alliance was recorded for posterity in the film ‘Dark Horse’, which won the World Cinema Documentary Award at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. The syndicate that owned Dream Alliance, known as the ‘Alliance Partnership’, was the brainchild of Janet ‘Jan’ Vokes, who hit upon the idea of breeding a racehorse while working as a barmaid in a working men’s club in Cefn Fforest, on the outskirts of Blackwood, in the South Wales Valleys.

Together with her husband, Brian, and twenty or so other local people, Vokes raised £300 to buy the unheralded mare Rewbell, whom she paired with Bien Bien, twice a Grade One winner on the Flat in the United States, and Dream Alliance. Foaled on March 23, 2001, Dream Alliance was initially raised on the Vokes’ allotment, before being transferred to Somerser trainer Philip Hobbs, with each syndicate member contributing £10 a week towards training costs.

Dream Alliance made his racecourse debut, as a three-year-old, at Newbury in November, 2004. The following season, after 350-day break, which included a gelding operation, he won twice over hurdles, at Chepstow and Haydock, and even made an appearance at the Cheltenham Festival, albeit finishing unplaced in the Spa Novices’ Hurdle won by Black Jack Ketchum. Dream Alliance made a winning debut over fences at Exeter in November, 2006, and on his seasonal debut in 2007/08 finished a creditable second to Denman in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup at Newbury.

At the end of that season, his racing career hung in the balance when he struck into himself, severing a tendon, in a hurdle race at Aintree. However, following stem-cell treatment, which cost connections £20,000, he returned to racing. On just his second start back from injury, he won the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow, worth over £57,000 to the winner.

Is Champ entered for the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The simple answer is ‘yes’; at the time of writing, Champ is one of 41 horses remaining in the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup at the latest declaration stage. Indeed, despite his relative inexperience over fences, the King’s Theatre gelding is currently 10/1 joint-second favourite for the Gold Cup, alongside Minella Indo, whom he collared close home when winning the RSA Insurance Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2020.

A dual Grade One winner over hurdles, Champ won his first two starts over the larger obstacles and, although falling in the Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in January, 2020, regained the winning thread on his return to Prestbury Park two months later. Now a nine-year-old, Champ has not been seen in public since, with a wind operation in the autumn of 2020 delaying his return to competitive action.

Originally, the Grade One Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas was mooted as a possible starting point for the 2020/21 season, but trainer Nicky Henderson decided that the Grade Two Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham in late January – which he won with subsequent Gold Cup runner-up Santini in 2020 – would present a less arduous task for Champ after his lengthy absence. Henderson has described Champ as ‘very, very good’ and, while he admits that there is room for improvement in his jumping, two Grade One wins over an extended three miles on soft going suggest that the Gold Cup distance is well within his compass and he remains an exciting prospect.

What happens if no horse finishes the race?

On the face of it, the ‘Totepool Flexi Betting At The Cheltenham Festival Novices’ Chase’, staged at Towcester on March 17, 2011, looked, at best, a run-of-the-mill event. The two-and-a-half mile contest featured just four, unexceptional runners and its scheduling, in the midst of the Cheltenham Festival – in fact, less than a hour after Big Buck’s had completed the third of his four consecutive wins in the Stayers’ Hurdle – hardly added to its attraction.

However, nondescript though it may have appeared at first glance, the race did enter the record books as the first ever to be declared void because none of the runners finished. In November, 2009, the British Horseracing Authority introduced a new rule, in the interests of safety to horse and rider, which banned remounting, under any circumstances, after the start of a race. The rule introduced the possibility of no finishers.

At Towcester, two of the four runners, Zhukov, who fell when in the lead, and Cenzig, who swerved on landing and unseated rider when tailed off last, had already departed the contest before halfway. That left Identity Parade, ridden by Adrian Lane, and Radharc Na Mara, ridden by Peter Toole, to fight out the finish. Approaching the final fence, Identity Parade was firmly in command but, distracted by people gathered around the fence, tried to refuse and fell, with the race at his mercy.

At that point, the sole surviving runner, Radharc Na Mara was left, albeit briefly, in the lead. However, he failed to avoid his stricken rival and unseated Toole; granted that his mount had not actually fallen, Toole was involved in a discussion with a racecourse steward but, when the possibility of remounting was ruled out, the result of the race was struck from the record.

Which was the last grey horse to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The last grey horse – in fact, the only grey horse – to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup was Desert Orchid in 1989. The iconic grey had been beaten of five previous appearances at the Cheltenham Festival, twice in the Champion Hurdle, once in the Arkle Challenge Trophy and twice in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Nevertheless, on treacherous, barely raceable ground and going left-handed – he was, according to jockey Simon Sherwood, ‘a two stone lesser horse going that way’ – Desert Orchid was sent off 5/2 favourite for his first attempt in the ‘Blue Riband’ event of steeplechasing.

‘Dessie’, as he was affectionately known to his legions of supporters, raced prominently for most of the way and was left in the lead when Ten Plus fell at the third last. However, the confirmed mudlark Yahoo, clearly relishing the atrocious underfoot conditions, arrived on the scene, travelling well, on the home turn and looked all over the winner. Galvanised by Simon Sherwood, Desert Orchid rallied gamely between the final two fences and was almost upsides again jumping the last. On the climb to the winning post, he first drifted right towards the stands’ side and then left towards his rival but, in the last hundred yards or so, Desert Orchid forged ahead to win by 1½ lengths, with Sherwood punching the air in celebration.

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