Dark Horse

Meanings of “Dark Horse”

The phrase “dark horse” means a person who comes out from nowhere, wins, and becomes a hero. It also means a person who was little known in his circle, suddenly taking up the heroic or leadership role.

Origin of “Dark Horse”

The phrase “dark horse” is stated to have originated from the horse race parlance. The former British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, is stated to have used this phrase in 1831 in his The Young Duke, as “A dark horse, which had never been thought of … rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph.”

Later, it was put into the Saturday Review in 1860 with a little explanatory note and in Sketches from Cambridge in 1865 in its original form about the ordinary students have done great in the studies.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

The Dark Horse by Ajay Seshadri

Dreams are more than mere desires
You cannot hold on to anyone the more longer
For the more you think of them
The more they grow stronger
Resisting them is another dream
That your world of fantasy cannot permit
Your love is a rare bird that can be
In time please don’t submit
To the dark horse
But when he is your only friend
When the girl of your dream leaves
You discover in him a rare flower
That blossoms in the form of knowledge
And the life that seemed so uncertain
Is now a canopy of moments
That you’d wish were still.

The poem sheds light on the very ordinary phenomenon of the unrequited love about epistemological awakening in that every girl, who leaves her lover, proves an avenue for knowledge. Starting from dreams and going through desires, the poet has beautifully linked it to the dark horse of love that even if abandons, leaves behind things to understand the world. The phrase is an extended metaphor of the beloved, who may prove otherwise, instead of a loyal one.

Example #2

A Dark Horse by Ian Bowen

Among my dead father’s papers,
a sepia photo of a girl.
The inscription on the back,
‘С а м м а й .. oт .. С в е т л а н ы ‘.

Made me wonder,
if somewhere in a Russian town,
at the back of a dark drawer,
there is a photo of my father,
with the inscription…


In this amusingly short poem, Ian Bowen describes that he finds a rare photo of a girl in the old paper of his deceased father. He wonders if he could find some memory of this love of his father through his photo sent to some Russian girl in some distant town. The phrase has been used as an extended metaphor of his father’s imaginary love with some Russian girl.

Example #3

 Dark Horse by Katy Perry

I knew you were
You were gonna come to me
And here you are
But you better choose carefully
‘Cause I’m capable of anything
Of anything and everything

Make me your Aphrodite
Make me your one and only
But don’t make me your enemy, your enemy, your enemy

So you wanna play with magic
Boy, you should know whatcha falling for
Baby do you dare to do this
‘Cause I’m coming atcha like a dark horse

The singer states that she could prove anything from enemy to a hypocrite but the lover should make her Aphrodite, a Greek goddess, through his love. She again asks his lover that he should be aware that he is going to play with the magic of his love as she may prove a dark horse. The phrase has been used in a direct sense and as a simile as the word “like” suggests.

Example #4

Dark Horse: A Biography of Wendell Willkie by Steve Neal

The presidential candidate and the author, Wendel Willkie, deserves our praise as he contested the elections yet never held any public office in his lifetime. Despite being a Democrat, he contested elections as a Republican nominee and rose like a Phoenix from the ashes, giving tough times to other nominees. Although he could not reach the White House, he proved a dark horse. The phrase has shown the use of an extended metaphor in the shape of the biography of Wendell Willkie.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Although Kyle does not perform well in most of the exams when it comes to the finals, he suddenly becomes  the dark horse, leaving everyone behind.”

Example #2: “Most of the time, John is called a dark horse, but when it comes to performance, he proves to be a damp squib.”

Example #3: “People always assumed Nancy would turn out to be an utter failure in life, given her marks and attitude. She blew away everyone’s mind when she contested for the student elections and won them.”

Example #4: “John Galloway is entirely a dark horse in this case. He is unpredictable and unexpected.”

Example #5: “Although he is an introvert, Jensen can become a dark horse when the situation demands.”