Luck seemed to arrive on HBO with a guarantee of success.  Created by David Milch, who also created NYPD Blue and Deadwood, Luck gave leading roles to Hollywood stalwarts Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, and the pilot was directed by Michael Mann.  The pilot originally aired last December, drawing over 1 million viewers, and was then shown again in late January, before coming to the UK on Sky Atlantic in February.  Following the airing of the pilot, HBO immediately renewed the show for a second season, but the death of a horse on set during filming this week has resulted in HBO cancelling the show and halting production.

On Wednesday, animal rights campaigners PETA issued a statement announcing that insiders at the Santa Anita Race Track (where the racing in Luck is filmed) had told them that a horse had died on set.  PETA had already been vocal about how horses were being treated on set after two had died during the filming of season one.  Not only were they angry that the horses had died, but they reported that those two horses were in no condition to race at all.

The first horse was named Outlaw Yodeler, a 5-year-old thoroughbred that PETA claim ‘hadn’t raced in months and was apparently so sore that he was given a potent cocktail of muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory and painkilling drugs’.  They believe the second horse was named Marc’s Shadow, an 8-year-old who hadn’t raced in four years, and was arthritic.  They went on to say that:

Both horses were “raced” twice in one day—something even fit thoroughbreds would never be subjected to. Healthy racehorses need at least a week to recover from the stress of competition. Indeed, they aren’t even exercised twice in one day. Both horses on the set of Luck broke down after the second run. Their leg fractures were so violent that their bones shattered under the pressure. We think—and we hope law enforcement agrees—that the way in which the horses were treated by the production company, the trainer, and the veterinarian warrants a swift and thorough investigation before yet another horse dies.

PETA had offered to give the producers of Luck advice on the care of the horses used in the show, and since the first two deaths they have asked for an investigation into them.  While it would be hypocritical of me to claim that I always agree with PETA’s tactics and methods in getting their views across, in this instance, they have done all the right things.

It would certainly appear that the makers of Luck were not treating the horses (an integral part of the show) properly, and three horses dying in such a short space of time gives PETA a strong case.

But it is easy to be cynical about the cancellation of the show.  Although HBO is not given to following the ratings the way other American networks do, Luck had been a huge disappointment, with viewing figures often failing to reach 500,000, on a network with almost 30 million subscribers.  It was never an easy show to like, with few characters to root for, and little explanation behind their motives and actions.

With many big names involved, it must have been an expensive show to produce too, and HBO may have been happy to can it.  Whatever the real reasons for HBO making this decision are, it’s the right one.  It seems unlikely that this will be the last we hear about Luck though.  There are still two episodes left to air in the US, and if PETA succeed in having an investigation into the deaths opened, there may be lawsuits in the future.

David Dougan

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