The ‘surreal’ true story behind uplifting film Dream Horse

·3-min read

The woman who raised a racehorse on her allotment in the Welsh Valleys and went on to win the Welsh Grand National has said it is “surreal” and “unbelievable” that her story has been made into a Hollywood movie.

Jan Vokes is played by Australian star Toni Collette, best known for roles in Hereditary and Muriel’s Wedding, in the new film Dream Horse.

It tells the story of Dream Alliance, the racehorse owned by a syndicate of friends paying £10 a week each, which won the Welsh Grand National in 2009.

Vokes was working as a barmaid in a local pub when she overheard a tax adviser talking about a racehorse he had once owned.

It inspired her to buy a mare in an effort to breed a racehorse, which she reared on an allotment in Cefn Fforest, near Blackwood in South Wales.

Horse Racing – The Coral Welsh National – Chepstow Racecourse
Jockey Tom O’Brien on Dream Alliance in The Coral Welsh National (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

The story was previously told in a documentary called Dark Horse and the new film stars Homeland actor Damian Lewis as tax adviser Howard Davies, alongside famous faces including Joanna Page, Sian Phillips and Steffan Rhodri.

Vokes told the PA news agency: “We couldn’t imagine that it was going to end up with a documentary and then this motion picture and all the fuss.

“At the time, to us, we were just excited that we managed to breed a horse who would get on the racecourse, never mind do what he did. It’s surreal. It’s unbelievable.

“I actually went on to set twice. I took some children from the local school I work in and everybody was so accommodating and friendly, down to earth.

Owen Teale, Toni Collette, Damian Lewis and Joanna Page in Dream Horse (Warner Bros/PA)
Owen Teale, Toni Collette, Damian Lewis and Joanna Page in Dream Horse (Warner Bros/PA)

“It was lovely, it was a wonderful experience. I was surprised by how quick it was.

“I think it took six weeks, the whole filming process. We’d waited all these years for it to come about, and about six weeks, I think, and it was finished.”

Vokes offered her assessment on Collette’s version of her Welsh accent, saying: “She mastered it almost to perfection. She took me off really well.”

Toni Collette with Jan Vokes (Warner Bros/PA)
Toni Collette with Jan Vokes (Warner Bros/PA)

Remembering the day of the big race in 2009, she said: “It was like being in a bubble.

“You could see it had happened; he had just won, and it was as if it was complete silence and everything was in slow motion.

“But in reality there was chaos going on around you. It was just uproar. All that was going on in the background, and I was just looking and thinking to myself ‘Did that really happen? Did he just win?’ It was strange.”

Vokes said Dream is now 20 and retired, and lives in Somerset with the woman who cared for him while he was racing.

She said: “She puts pictures on Facebook. I can’t go and see him, I really can’t, because I get too upset, because there are only so many times you can walk away.

“I know he’s got a lovely home, I know he’s well looked after, and anybody in the syndicate that wishes to go and see him, they can. So, you can’t ask for any more than that, can you?”

– Dream Horse is out now in UK cinemas.