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Page last updated at 20:29 GMT, Monday, 28 December 2009

Alliance fulfils a valley's dreams

Dream Alliance wins Welsh Grand National

Replay - Welsh Grand National

By Peter Shuttleworth
BBC Sport at Chepstow Racecourse

Brian Vokes is proof that dreams do come true - if only men listen to their wives.

Outsider Dream Alliance's 2009 Welsh National triumph at Chepstow is one for the Hollywood scriptwriters because this is a working-class hero who has come from the humblest of beginnings.

For the foal - born on a disused Welsh valley allotment nine years ago this New Year's Day - has cheated death, risen again from a career-threatening injury thanks to pioneering surgery and, against all of the odds, bravely galloped to his biggest victory in front of those who appreciated it most.

But the only reason Dream Alliance exists is because one woman dared to take seriously the drunken dream of locals at a Welsh valley workingman's club.

O'Brien praises 'courageous' horse

Jan Vokes was pulling pints behind the bar at Cefn Fforest's Top Club when a load of regulars shared a theoretical chat about owning a racehorse.

"I liked the sound of that and went home to ask my husband to buy me a mare so I could breed a racehorse," recalled the determined bar tender turned champion breeder.

"I won't tell you what he called me.

"I didn't know the boys from Adam back then and they'd had a few drinks.

"But I'd always loved animals, I once bred racing pigeons and won trophies, and I thought 'How hard can it be breeding a racehorse?'"

Most husbands would have dismissed such a whimsical flight of fancy from their better half following banter with a bunch of unknown blokes at a bar.


But as Brian, a retired road layer, points out: "You ignore my wife at your peril. You don't say no to her."

Jan bought a mare called Rubell for a 'snip' from a breeder in Llanelli, deepest rugby union country, and the dream slowly turned to reality when Dream Alliance was born in 2001.

It was then that the 22 syndicate members started paying £10 a week into the Alliance Partnership syndicate.

Their £4,500 rollercoaster ride has been emotional.

Dream Alliance, who made his National Hunt debut at Newbury in November 2004, had rarely finished outside the top four before winning the 2007 Perth Cup.

I'm happy I did what I'm told!

Brian Vokes

Then, as their beloved ran the great Denman close at the 2007 Hennessey Gold Cup back at Newbury, the syndicate dreamed of Grand National glory.

But their excitement and anticipation turned to anxiety and anguish 18 months ago when Dream severed a tendon in his leg - an Achilles tendon in a human - in the handicap hurdle at the famous Aintree track where they one day hoped Dream Alliance would live up to his name.

Such an injury could end the animal's life, let alone his career, but 21st-Century stem-cell surgery ensured the Dream lived on.

That weekend in April 2008, however, was a testing time for animal and owner as Rubell died giving birth to her fourth foal, meaning that the Vokes could not be beside Dream's bedside when he was at his lowest ebb.

"We had to rear the foal ourselves," said Jan.

"It was a tough time so that makes this high all the more enjoyable."

The stem-cell treatment cost the modest syndicate £20,000, but as Dream galloped to glory and a £43,580 winning cheque in front of the television cameras and half of Cefn Fforest on the Chepstow terraces, any debts were repaid with incredible interest.

The gaggle of garage owners, bailiffs, tax consultants and more agreed in unison that all their Christmas presents had come at once - it was just a shame the noodle factory worker could not get time off work.

But how much better her Chinese chow mein snack must have tasted on her break this Bank Holiday.

It would have been fitting symmetry if Richard Johnson, the jockey that helped save Dream irreparable damage at Aintree, was on board the loveable gelding for his finest hour.

But Johnson chose Phillip Hobbs's other Welsh National hope Kornati Kid and had to watch his stablemate Tom O'Brien take the plaudits from way back up the three-mile-five-furlong course after Johnson's chance had pulled up.

It's a dream come true - Hobbs

Syndicate member and warehouse storeman Gwyn Davies, though, was quick to praise the man he describes as Dream's "saviour".

"We feared the worst when we heard about the injury," he said.

"But Richard immediately knew the problem and kept him still so that minimised the damage.

"Then he made sure Dream was not put down because he knew his injury was not curable. He helped save Dream.

"Once we knew he was OK, we were resigned to taking him home and having him as a pet - that would have been fine with us.

"But this win shows with a bit of belief, tender loving care, determination, ability and a never-say-die attitude what can be achieved in sport because we are just 23 idiots from a small Welsh village with a horse bred on an allotment.

"That makes this such an awesome feat. The drinks will be flowing long into the night. I doubt I'll be going home tonight."

So here's a case of Dream by name, dream by nature.

And as Brian concludes: "I'm happy I did what I'm told!"

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see also
Dream Alliance wins Welsh honours
28 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
Dream return to racing
22 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
The Major's tip
23 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales
BBC racing coverage
09 Apr 11 |  Horse Racing

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