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Page last updated at 14:57 GMT, Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Alliance makes Dream return in Welsh National

Dream Alliance
Dream Alliance pulled up during his previous Welsh National run in 2007

Coral Welsh National
Venue: Chepstow Racecourse Date: 28 December First race: 1225 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC TWO, BBC Wales & online and full commentary on BBC Radio Wales

By Peter Shuttleworth

The festive season is a time of miracles and at Chepstow on Monday, one wonderhorse will complete a fairytale return.

The owners of Dream Alliance feared their beloved animal had lost its ultimate race when he severed a leg tendon at the 2008 Grand National meeting at Aintree.

"For one awful moment we thought we might have to put him down," said Dream Alliance's syndicate manager Howard Davies.

But quick thinking from jockey Richard Johnson and pioneering stem cell treatment saved the loveable Welsh horse's life, never mind his racing career.

Now eight-year-old Dream Alliance, trained by Philip Hobbs, will prove dreams do come true when he lines up for the Welsh National.

Chepstow clerk predicts Welsh National cracker on Monday

Forget winning Monday's three mile, five furlong feature race, merely being at Chepstow Racecourse is an achievement for the 25-1 shot.

But then Dream Alliance's rise to racing stardom has been something of a fairytale.

Local animal lover Jan Vokes dreamt up the idea of breeding a racehorse after a game of squash "over a few beers" at the Top Club in Cefn Fforest.

Jan and husband Brian then bought a mare to breed and she gave birth to Dream Alliance in an allotment next to a rugby field in the Gwent valleys on New Year's Day in 2001.

A syndicate of tax consultants, cafe owners, bailiffs, garage owners, someone who washes cars and a girl that works in a noodle factory was formed after 23 locals signed up to pay a tenner a week for his upkeep.

Dream Alliance, who made his racing debut at Newbury in November 2004, had graced the Cheltenham Festival and galloped to three wins before he triumphed in the 2007 Perth Gold Cup, the richest race in Perth's 99-year history.

He then gave the great Denman something to think about at the 2007 Hennessy Gold Cup before Denman eventually stepped on the gas to win at Newbury by 11 lengths.

"The initial idea of having a racehorse was to have some fun with him," tax advisor Davies told BBC Sport.

"But finishing second at the Hennessey in 2007 and giving Denman a scare made us raise our sights with him."

The Grand National was the dream, but the reality was put into sharp focus at the famous Aintree meeting 18 months ago.

"He was four or five flights from home in the handicap hurdle when his four legs concertinaed," recalled Davies.

"His razor sharp rear hoof scythed through the back of his front leg at 25mph cutting through his tendon.

"The tendon was severed completely and bled badly. Sometimes if horses suffer such injuries the horse is put down at the course but the jockey's experience helped save him as he knew the dangers of such an injury.

"Thankfully, Richard Johnson jumped off immediately and held him still so the tendon didn't completely tear away. If it snaps completely, it is not repairable.

"Fortunately the track was close to a top veterinary college so he was carted there and we managed to save him."

The stem cell-aided surgery and recovery cost the modest Valleys syndicate a whopping £20,000 but Davies admits there was "not a moment's hesitation" when the decision came to save the horse that had captured their hearts.

"Everything he had ever won we have banked," said Davies.

"Dream has earned £80,000 and we've banked £40,000 so he has more than paid for his two operations and rehab.

"The surgeon extracted healthy stem cells from his chest and placed them into incubation for a month.

"Once they grew to a specific length, Dream was put under general anaesthetic and the stem cells were inserted into his tendon to knit together and, with physio, allow nature to take its course.

"The theory is that he will be stronger then he was before. He has given us fantastic fun over the last eight years and allowing him to go for this treatment was the least we could do for him."

Johnson, who won the 1999 Welsh National on Edmond, can choose to reunite with Dream Alliance and ride the local hero at Chepstow.


Tom O'Brien, Somerset trainer Hobbs' number two jockey, is ready to deputise for Johnson if the number one decides to take take the reins of Kornati Kid on Monday.

"Dream has a huge 25-1 price and has been dropped six pounds by the handicapper because of his injury problems," said Davies.

"So he is probably the best handicapped horse at the Welsh National. And if he runs to his best, he'll have a great chance.

"We just don't know what the injury has done to him psychologically. But the achievement is that he's back at all."

Dream Alliance - or 'Sicknote' as he's known locally - has "come back from the brink" and finished a promising second in a Chepstow warm-up last month so is expecting a hero's welcome at his local track for the Welsh National.

"When he races, you normally can't get into the bookies in Cefn Fforest so we're expecting a busload at Chepstow."

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see also
Syndicate dream of National
27 Dec 07 |  Wales
Denman powers to Hennessy success
01 Dec 07 |  Horse Racing
Dream win for Hobbs and O'Brien
25 Apr 07 |  Horse Racing

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