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.

Who coined the phrase ‘dark horse’?

One dictionary definition of the phrase ‘dark horse’, in the idiomatic sense – that is, when used to describe something more than just the colour of a horse – is ‘someone who wins a race, competition, election etc. that no-one expected them to win’. Interestingly, the earliest known reference to the phrase, in this sense, occurs in the high-society novel ‘The Young Duke’, written by Benjamin Disraeli, who would later serve twice as British Prime Minister, in the years before he entered the House of Commons in 1837. In the novel, published in 1831, the titular protagonist, the Duke of St. James, witnesses a horse race, about which Disraeli writes, ‘A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.’