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Dream Alliance stars as slumhorse millionaire

John Smith's Grand National, Aintree, Saturday, 1615 BST
Coverage BBC One/BBC HD/BBC Radio 5 live/online, with other races also across the BBC 8-10 April. Highlights: 0030 BST, BBC Two

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Dream Alliance: Sport Wales, BBC TWO Wales, 1900 BST, 09-04-10

By Peter Shuttleworth

It seems that the Welsh valleys are not that far from the Hollywood Hills, about four miles and four furlongs in fact.

Once Dream Alliance completes his walk of fame at Saturday's Grand National at Aintree, scriptwriters from Tinseltown will ensure his sporting fairytale is immortalised on the silver screen.

The story already has plenty of twists - born on a disused allotment on top of an old slagheap for a local syndicate, Dream Alliance flirted with death before being saved by pioneering surgery and returned to win the 2009 Welsh National.

And the adventure could gain perhaps a defining moment as Dream Alliance lines up for arguably the world's most famous horse race, where he will surely be the casual flutterers' favourite for the 4.15pm at Aintree on Saturday.

Tom O'Brien celebrates his Welsh National win on Dream Alliance
Both Dream Alliance and Tom O'Brien returned from injury to win the Welsh

Dream Alliance's story actually begins a year before his birth with a 22-strong syndicate of tax consultants, decorators, car washers, cafe owners, bailiffs and a Pot Noodle factory worker paying £10 a week towards his future upkeep.

"The initial idea about owning a racehorse was a pipe dream," says syndicate manager Howard Davies.

"I was having a few quiet pints at The Top Club in Cefn Fforest after a game of squash and Jan, the bar lady, overheard us and said 'I'd breed you a racehorse.'

Jan Vokes takes up the story.

"I didn't have the first idea about racing, I'd never even been to a racecourse," she recalls.

"The nearest I got to breeding a racehorse was breeding whippets which I used to show at Crufts and I also won a Welsh National with my racing pigeons.

"But I thought I'd have a go. I paid £350 for a mare from a young lad in Llanelli and Rewbell gave birth to Dream - the rest is history."

The Philip Hobbs-trained horse rarely finished outside the top 10 after his 2004 National Hunt debut at Haydock and won the 2007 Perth Gold Cup.

He ran Denman close at the 2007 Hennessey Gold Cup in Newbury before the enigmatic and much-hyped home hero pulled up in a sea of groans at the Welsh National at Chepstow.

"His rollercoaster form is because he is Welsh," explains tax consultant Davies.

Dream Alliance wins Welsh Grand National

Replay - Dream Alliance wins the 2009 Welsh National at Chepstow

"The Welsh rugby team went from Grand Slam winners one year to finishing last the next. That is what being Welsh is all about. The Welsh are quirky."

However there were far greater concerns than form in 2008 as he severed a leg tendon in the handicap hurdle before the Grand National, leaving his owners to fear for their "best friend".

Breeder Jan - not at Aintree because of the death of Dream Alliance's mother - says: "I remember watching the race on the television and all of a sudden he wasn't in it anymore.

"They put screens around him and I honestly thought they were going to shoot him. That was a weekend to forget."

Davies adds: "We initially feared we'd lose him but when it became clear we could save him, there was no question whatever the cost.

"We lost his mother the night before giving birth to his brother so there was never any prospect of telling the vet to put him down that day.

"If he had to come home and limp around a field in Cefn Fforest for rest of his life, then so be it.

"The course vet suggested taking him to the nearby Royal Veterinary College with a view to surgery.

"By doing that we were forfeiting any chance of getting insurance money as Dream was an expensively insured animal and if the horse gets put down on the course, the insurance will pay-out."

But not even the tax consultant needed a second to agree for Dream to undergo pioneering stem cell treatment even though it would cost the modest syndicate £20,000.

"We're lucky to have Dream, but Dream is lucky to have 22 lovely owners who care about him," said Jan.

"After his accident at Aintree no-one batted an eyelid about him having the operation despite the cost as they wanted him to have a good quality of life even if he couldn't race again."

It took the animal 18 months to return to his former self so the elation was indescribable when the 20-1 outsider romped to win the 60th Welsh National at a course just 30 miles from the place he calls home.

The celebrations following that win were notable, but would surely be nothing compared to those if the working-class hero was to somehow emulate 2004 National winner Earth Summit and complete the Welsh and Grand double.

A young Dream Alliance with mother Rubell at their 'home' in Cefn Fforest
A young Dream Alliance with mother Rubell at their 'home' in Cefn Fforest

"A Welsh horse winning the Welsh National - he has done it as far as we're concerned," Vokes says.

"He does not owe us anything - anything he does at Aintree is a bonus."

But will Dream's return to the track that almost ended his life bring back nightmares for the 33-1 chance?

"For us it will be emotional," Davies says.

"But Dream has forgotten anything to do with his injury as has the type of personality to get on with it."

A Hollywood ending would make an ideal wrap.

"Los Angeles film company Gold Rush is looking to make a movie regardless of what happens in the National," says Davies.

"The injury, comeback and the numerous stories, they thought it was already a great story.

"So we have signed a one-year option so Gold Rush can finalise the funding to make the movie, with or without Saturday's result - and they hope to have the film in the can at the end of next year.

"I think Tom Hanks would make a good me. Although the Cefn Fforest boys think Danny DeVito is made for the part!"

There are a few more hurdles to cross before Dream Alliance lands on the red carpet, but success at Aintree might just be an Oscar-winning ending.

* Catch Sport Wales' Dream Alliance Grand National feature on BBC TWO Wales on Friday at 1900 BST.



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see also
Sport Wales: The TV Programme
15 Mar 11 |  Wales
Dream set for National spotlight
08 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
Carberry rides National contender
08 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
Twiston-Davies eyes National bow
01 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
McCoy picks Grand National ride
08 Apr 10 |  Horse Racing
BBC to show Grand National in HD
29 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Dream Alliance is a Grand chance
23 Mar 10 |  Horse Racing
Alliance fulfils a valley's dreams
28 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
Dream Alliance wins Welsh honours
28 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
Dream return to racing
22 Dec 09 |  Horse Racing
BBC racing coverage
09 Apr 11 |  Horse Racing


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