How to put Hollywood gloss on Chepstow in December
Dream Horse is Hollywood's latest take on the horseracing scene, following the wonderful story of Dream Alliance, brought up on a Welsh allotment before graduating via Philip Hobbs to win the Welsh National in 2009. It's the sort of fairy tale ownership experience that racing needs to exploit more.
A winner of 5 of his 30 races, Dream Alliance enjoyed a promising first season in 2005-6, winning novice hurdles at Chepstow and Haydock before graduating to the bigger obstacles the following year. He won his first novice chase at Exeter by 8l and followed up a year on in a £25k handicap at the Perth Festival.
The next season was less than kind, where a series of PUs against his name didn't stop the handicapper giving him a rating of 142 for the 2009 Welsh National. Staying power was the name of the game in ground so heavy 2 fences were omitted. 3/4l separated Dream Alliance from Lucind Russell's Silver By Nature and Le Beau Baie, from Richard Lee's yard.
Dream Alliance never found any sort of form thereafter, even after a change of stable to John Flint.
This latest release got me thinking of all the other racing films or TV series over the years, a majority of which tend to irritate through lack of detail: use of standard jodphurs instead of breeches for work riding; riding over hurdles when they should be fences and so on. More often than not, the racing viewer is left irritated, which goes to show how few of us there really are!
There are some however, that stick in the memory, so here's a reminder:
The ultimate of course is Champions, the true story of our own Bob Champion, who recovered from cancer to ride Aldantit to victory in the 1981 Grand National. You'd have to be emotionally dead not to be sobbing by the end, but of course the best was yet to come. Bob's extraordinary fund-raising since has raised £15m since 1983 and deservedly won him a CBE in this year's New Year's Honours list.
John Hurt plays the jockey who contracts cancer whilst Aldaniti, the horse breaks down. Leaving aside the human story a moment, the patience of owner Nick Embiricos and trainer Josh Gifford in nursing Aldaniti back to be able to race again was extraordinary, not to mention Josh's characteristic loyalty to his jockey.
Ride Like A Girl follows the true story of Michelle Payne, the first female rider to win the Melbourne Cup. There are some fabulous shots of Baccarat and other country racetracks in Australia, and with Sam Neil as Payne Senior, some heavyweight thespian names in the cast.
On the small screen, the BBC had a stab at a truly cringe-making drama serial in 1991-92 called Trainer. Susannah York and David McCallum added credibility but the continuity errors and weak script did nothing to enhance its popularity. It survived to a second series with audiences of 6m which most contemporary dramas would die for, but this was before all the satellite channels had eroded the terrestrial market.
Perhaps its most memorable feature was the them tune, More To Life, sung by Cliff Richard, which made the charts mid-division at 23 - rather a fair description of the series at large.
Wind back again to 1979 and The Racing Game, which followed the Dick Francis novels of private investigator Sid Halley and his sidekick, Chico Barnes. It was a sort of racing equivalent of Minder, without the humour. The six episodes conveyed plenty of the tension from the novels that captivated millions of readers, but of course, such was the success of the books, that everyone knew the denouement!
Films like Sea Biscuit and Phar Lap tell the human stories behind top Australian racehorses, but in this Derby week, perhaps it's fitting to end with Shergar, a 1991 release fictionalizing the sensational kidnap of the 1981 Derby winner. Lots of shots of old-fashioned Land Rovers and a rather stout-looking Shergar who appears to have learned to jump! All good clean fun, casting the Irish successfully in IRA gangster mode.
Enjoy your trip down memory lane!