03/05/2012 10:15AM

Luck Episode 6 Recap: Flag on the play


It's the last word you want to hear when you're holding a winning ticket in your hand: INQUIRY.

The track rats have just seen their claiming horse Mon Gateau win yet another race, this time as a 2-1 favorite, when their celebration is cut short by the race track stewards. Or as Marcus refers to them, "three human blind [expletive] mice." In taking over the lead in the stretch, bug boy Leon Micheaux and Mon Gateau bumped another horse. Track rat Jerry and trainer Turo Escalante know immediately that they might be disqualified. "There's a flag on the play," Jerry says.

For a few nervewracking moments, the "7" blinks on the scoreboard. Nearly every horseplayer has been in this position at one time or another, sweating out a winner while the number blinks for what seems like an eternity. The pregnant pause is one of the show's finest moments to date.

The bug boy calls the stewards upstairs to explain his actions. The horse didn't change leads until late in the stretch, he says. They ask him if he can recall specific actions during the incident while they watch the replay. His answers are all wrong -- "It's like he wasn't even there," one of the stewards says -- but they decide in his favor because the bumped horse "was going backward" and finished poorly, only defeating two others in the field.

Delivered from their purgatory, the track rats rejoice -- as does the bug boy.

Jockey agent Joey Rathburn also has a reason to feel reborn. He woke up that morning with dark intentions. He called his wife and told her he wished things had worked out. Rathburn then stands in front of the mirror holding a handgun to his head. But before he can go through with it, the room starts to shake

Earthquake! Rathburn lowers the handgun away from his head but pulls the trigger by accident. The bullet ricochets twice and grazes his right cheek.

At the hospital, a doctor questions Rathburn's story that he was cleaning a loaded handgun. Rathburn is surprised to find that he's happy to be alive. "I sense the event as a positive, doc. I can tell you that for a fact," he says. Another surprise: His stammer is gone.

Meanwhile, Ace Bernstein returns to his hotel after his overnight stay at the barn with his horse Pint of Plain. He meets with Nathan Israel to give the kid his marching orders for the next meeting with Mike. Ace then meets with his parole officer to confirm that it's okay for an ex-con to buy a racetrack. The parole officer is more concerned with Ace's motives in buying the track.

"When you think about what you're gonna do, how does it make you feel?" he asks.

Ace: "Good."

"Good like I'm going to have some fun, enjoy life . . .  or good like 'I'm gonna rub those [expletive] nose who did this to me?"

The answer? "Good. Both ways."

Walter Smith is not feeling good. He has received a letter informing him that the son-in-law of the man who granted him the rights to Gettin' Up Morning -- "The Colonel" --  is seeking a stud fee from the late champion Delphi and two years of boarding fees. Smith is irate. He has a letter bequesting him the stud fee in exchange for years of service, but the son-in-law is questioning the colonel's competency in granting him that letter. Rosie the jockey suggests Smith consult with another trainer who doubles as a lawyer.

Smith has more reason to be upset during Gettin' Up Morning's next race. Rosie disobeys orders and goes to the whip in the stretch, overdoing what had been a perfectly easy winning ride and resulting in a new track record -- the last thing Smith wants is more attention for his colt right now. When Smith throws away her whip prior to the winner's circle photo, she knows her future as Gettin' Up Morning's jockey is in serious doubt.

After the earthquake, Ace returns to Escalante's barn to check in on Pint of Plain before a meeting with the track owner, who guesses at Ace's plan to add casino gambling. He also knows the track purchase is part of a larger scheme of revenge against Mike.

Israel meets with Mike and convinces his gang that Ace has the Indian gaming lobby in his pocket, which he doesn't. The racino won't happen without the support of the Indian gaming lobby. Mike becomes determined to outbid Ace for their influence with the state legislature.

Ace goes on a date with Claire LeChea, who advises him to not be "afraid of everything that can be."

Ace's trainer Escalante is still fighting with Jo, the veterinarian. She storms off and reveals to the camera -- but not to Escalante -- that she is pregnant.

-- Jacob Luft

More Luck Episode 6 coverage:
Variety: Recent episodes crystalize virtues of HBO's 'Luck'
HBO: Episode 6 TrackSpeak
WSJ.com: Luck Episode 6 TV recap
Oregonlive.com: 'Luck' recap: Give Richard Kind an Emmy Award right now
I Screen You Screen: Luck recap: Shake it, don't break it