Everybody loves an underdog story. What feels better than cheering for an against-all-odds winner? “Dark Horse,” a new documentary from Louise Osmond that won the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, is actually two underdog stories in one. Like Doublemint gum, it’s twice the fun. It’s the chronicle of people with a dream and a horse named Dream Alliance.
There’s a reason horseracing is called the Sport of Kings, it’s expensive, time consuming and typically the purview of the insanely wealthy. Here’s where the first underdog comes into the tale. Welsh bartender Jan Vokes and husband Brian had a wild idea to invest in the breeding of a championship racehorse. Jan wasn’t a royal slumming it behind the bar but a person looking beyond the depressed economic state of her home village in Cefn Fforest. Assembling a twenty-three-person syndicate of backers they invest in the story’s second underdog, a horse named Dream Alliance. After a slow start the horse becomes a steed sensation, winning the Welsh Grand National and raking in over £137,000 in career earnings.
“Dark Horse” isn’t simply “Seabiscuit” with Welsh accents. Certainly it’s an inspirational story, with amusing jabs at the upper class snobbery associated with the breeding game—check out Tony Kerby bringing a sack of lager and homemade sandwiches to Newbury—but at its heart it is a story about the power of standing up and being recognized. It’s a fable of empowerment, of beating the odds, but Osmond’s deft hand ensures it never feels manipulative. It’s the story of the people not the sport and further proof that fact is often stranger—and more heart warming—than fiction.