It’s always the people – and in our sport, the horses – that make the most interesting stories. And Horsepower does a solid job of beautifully shot, careful storytelling to bring so many stories to life.
The four-part Amazon Prime Video series follows the lives of champion Flat jockey Oisin Murphy and top trainer Andrew Balding from autumn 2020 to Royal Ascot 2021.
The access this fly-on-the-wall style series achieves is excellent. The insights the viewer is given into the workings of Andrew’s training operation at Kingsclere, alongside his drive to succeed and attention to detail, are exceptional.
Underpinning the whole series are the threads of ambition, passion and care. Much of the story is told by Anna Lisa Balding, whose strength and kindness shine through all four episodes.
The grittier sides of these two main protagonists’ stories are in there, too. The viewer sees Andrew’s frustration when a horse’s important final piece of work doesn’t go to plan, while Oisin’s promise beforehand that you would see the jockey at his “best and worst” is fulfilled. The cameras follow the fall-out from his positive cocaine test (Oisin has always maintained he has never taken cocaine – it was accepted by authorities that this was as a result of contamination), his ban, and his comeback. We see him vulnerable, honest, at times stroppy, and also likeable, funny and brilliant on a horse.
I’m sure there are reasons, but is surprising, though, that there is no mention of Oisin’s current ban, connected to Covid- and alcohol-related rule breaches, which he was given seven months before this series aired on Amazon Prime Video. The series ends in June 2021 – months before the news of Oisin’s alleged charges were made public in December 2021 – but certain dates connected with these charges did cross over with the time period in which the documentary was filmed.
What Horsepower really captures so well is that alchemic balance in the contradictions of this losing sport, which is all about winning, that makes racing so compelling. It’s something I touched on following the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last year – top level competition is both completely and utterly about sport to the point it almost ceases to be about sport, at all. It’s about people, horses and relationships.
The backdrop of Andrew’s build up to Royal Ascot and Oisin’s journey provide the stage. But its stories are in the players and how the two worlds – that top-flight sporting backdrop and the real lives of the people involved – are bound together.
I loved the way the one-on-one relationships between the staff and horses are given real air-time. There’s lovely insight into what goes into flying horses around the world. Seeing Bangkok playing with a coat zip, the Valentine’s day cards outside Kameko’s stable, and grooms singing to their horses in the stables and the power the horse-human bond has to transform both people and equines is beautiful. It also did a solid job of both showing how skilled stable staff are and explaining to non-equestrian viewers why seemingly small details, such as a horse being late in his coat, are picked up on.
The series touches, too, on heartbreaking stories involving staff, family and owners, deeply moving and sensitively told. Racing is not untouched by the world around it, however firm the bubble surrounding it may seem at times.
The series is a good watch. While it will of course appeal to racing fans and the horse world, those are not prerequisites, which is its strength. Horsepower is a documentary about racing, but really, it’s a story about people.
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