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Dark horse

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Title: Dark horse  
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Subject: Wendell Willkie, United States presidential election, 1940, James K. Polk, The Sleepover Club (TV series), Dark Horse
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Dark horse

A dark horse is a little-known person or thing that emerges to prominence, especially in a competition of some sort[1] or a contestant that seems unlikely to succeed.[2]


The term began as horse racing parlance for a race horse that is not known to gamblers and thus is difficult to place betting odds on.

The earliest-known mention of the concept is in Benjamin Disraeli's novel The Young Duke (1831). Disraeli's protagonist, the Duke of St. James, attends a horse race with a surprise finish: "A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph."[3]

In the political arena

The concept has been used in political contexts in such countries as Iran,[4] Philippines,[5] Russia,[6] Egypt, and the United States.

Politically, the concept came to America in the nineteenth century when it was first applied to James K. Polk, a relatively unknown Tennessee Democrat who won the Democratic Party's 1844 presidential nomination over a host of better-known candidates. Polk won the nomination on the ninth ballot, and went on to win the presidential election.

Other famous dark horse candidates for the United States presidency include:

Outside of the United States, the dark horse status also attributed to Alberto Fujimori, who rose to the Presidency in Peru and Jejomar Binay, who rose to the Vice Presidency in the Philippines.

In a 2011 article about possible successors for Hugo Chávez, Sarah Grainger for the BBC News website referred to former army officer Diosdado Cabello, who helped Hugo Chávez to stage a failed coup in 1992, as a dark horse.[7]

Several government ministers, who were appointed to the third cabinet of Russian prime minister Dimitri Medvedev on 21 May 2012, were also described as "dark horses" due to lacking experience, for instance, Olga Golodets, Vladimir Medinsky and Alexander Novak.[6] Some of the candidates for the presidency of Iran in 2013 were labelled as dark horse, including Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Mohsen Rezai, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, Mohammad Saeedikia[4] and Mohammad Gharazi.[8]

Use in music, film and television

In addition, surprising or unlikely nominations for such prizes as the Academy Award (awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) are referred to as dark horses.

Guitarist and singer-songwriter song named "Dark Horse."

American folk band Bowerbirds released an album titled "Hymns for a Dark Horse," featuring a song titled "Dark Horse."

StandUp For Kids that aids homeless and street children (The "Dark Horses") across America.

The first episode of the second season of Frisky Dingo is called "Behold A Dark Horse."

"Dark Horse" is the third single from Katy Perry's third studio album Prism.

Use in publishing

Dark Horse Comics is an American comic book publisher.

See also


  1. ^ "A dark horse". The Phrase Finder. 
  2. ^ "Dark horse". Merriam Webster. 
  3. ^ "Origins of Sayings - A Dark Horse". Trivia Library. 
  4. ^ a b "Who Will Be Iran's Next President?". Radio Free Liberty. 6 January 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  5. ^ "Invest in Philippines, the 'Dark Horse' of Asia". CNBC. 17 November 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Tikhomirov, Vladimir (22 May 2012). "Putin names a technocrat Cabinet". Equity. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Grainger, Sarah (28 July 2011). "Who could succeed Hugo Chavez as Venezuela's leader?". BBC News. 
  8. ^ "Profiles: Iran's presidential candidates". Al Jazeera. 11 June 2011. Retrieved 16 June 2013. 

External links

  • Experts Say Philippines is Dark Horse of Asia
  • Jan 2012 - Philippine Market continue its charging rush to be Asia's Dark horse
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