Updated on 03/17/2012 10:08AM

'Luck': HBO cancels production on series after death of horse

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In an unexpected development, the producers of the HBO series “Luck,” which is set at Santa Anita, announced Wednesday afternoon that production of the show would be discontinued immediately.

The announcement came one day after a horse used in production had to be euthanized at the track after rearing over and striking its head in the stable area. The horse was the third to be euthanized since the show began production two years ago.

“Luck” is in its first season, with two episodes remaining in a nine-episode run. The second season was already in production, and at least two episodes had been completed.

“It is with heartbreak that executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann together with HBO have decided to cease all future production on the series LUCK,” read a statement issued by HBO.

"Safety is always of paramount concern,” the release continued. “We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production, higher in fact than any protocols existing in horseracing anywhere with many fewer incidents than occur in racing or than befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures. While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future. Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision.

“We are immensely proud of this series, the writing, the acting, the filmmaking, the celebration of the culture of horses, and everyone involved in its creation.”

HBO also issued a statement from the show’s co-creators, Michael Mann and David Milch.

“The two of us loved this series, loved the cast, crew and writers,”  the statement said. “This has been a tremendous collaboration and one that we plan to continue in the future.”

Late Wednesday evening, the California Horse Racing Board announced that it will “conduct a thorough investigation, which will include a postmortem examination and toxicology testing,” regarding the fatality on Tuesday.

“The CHRB is assured by those onsite at Santa Anita who are responsible for equine health and safety that every precaution was being taken to protect the horses appearing in the HBO program,” said a release from the racing board. “In fact, because the filming was taking place in an enclosure within the CHRB’s jurisdiction, the level of care for these animals exceeded the level of care for animals on other filming locations. Everyone involved in the handling of the horses that appeared on ‘Luck’ is licensed by the CHRB and qualified to do so.”

Earlier Wednesday, the network had announced that filming of racing scenes for the series had been suspended after a horse that was scheduled to be part of the production reared and suffered a head injury that required the horse to be euthanized. 

According to officials, the horse was being led to his stall on Santa Anita’s backstretch by a groom when it fell backward and suffered a severe head injury. At the time of the incident, the horse was not involved in the production of a scene for the series, the officials said.

During 2010 and 2011, two horses that were participating in the filming of racing scenes for the series suffered catastrophic injuries, leading to criticism from animal-welfare groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The horses suffered the injuries while racing.

The use of horses during the production of the series was being overseen by the American Humane Association, which said in a statement Tuesday that the horse who died had passed an inspection by a veterinarian just prior to the accident.

Reactions to HBO's cancellation of "Luck"

• "How incredible, and ultimately poignant, that 'Luck' made me care about the show's animals as much as it made me care about the ragged people in that downtrodden world. ... Because Milch and fellow executive producer Michael Mann were so wonderful at making these horses come alive as individuals, it's even harder now to contemplate them dying for the sake of art, as magical as that art might be." - Maureen Ryan, Huffington Post TV Critic

• "So bummed. Peace out to all my family in #luck @johnortiz78 love ya my bro." - Gary Stevens (@HRTVGary), portrayed jockey Ronnie Jenkins

• "Latest Luck death wasnt in racing scene. Horse examined/okayed by vet, reared & fell w/fatal head injury walking to stall. That's BAD Luck." - Randy Moss (@randy_moss_tv)

• "'Luck' canceled and NY governor calls for probe of breakdowns. Maybe unfair, but perception is reality. Must do EVERYTHING for safety. #Luck - Brian Malloy (@brianwmalloy)

• More: Discussion on Twitter at hashtag #Luck

Ed More than 1 year ago
I too am also sad about the cancellation. I felt LUCK was a gift to horseplayers. Let's remember the good things - such as the boys suffering through a possible disqualification and then having their disabled friend join them in the winner's circle. Again this past Sunday Mr Ortiz "Escalante" truly looked happy in that same winner's circle.
Jack More than 1 year ago
Milch is a "BUM" and the show was a BUMMER....and the ratings SUCKED = Cancelled
Brian Fitzpatrick More than 1 year ago
I love the comment below about how shamefull the show is and how it's rubbish. As you needed to point out how you've spent "most of his life involved with the racetrack", I'm assuming that you didn't like it because it was not what "really" goes on behind the scenes. Guess what? IT WAS FICTION!! Do you think that a real crime lab runs like they do on CSI? Or that every cop shpw is reality? Come on man! Personally I liked the show. Flaws and all. I'd rather watch a drama about horseracing than another CSI offshoot or Law and Order offshoot.
PhiloSkinner More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed the show, despite the "many" flaws. In real life Marcus would have blown off Lonnie & Renzo. Two guys that dim witted would never have been involved in a $2 mill plus score. & as one guy pointed out, every stretch drive lasted 2 minutes. As for the stable guy (hot walker) from Woodbine, if he really thinks this type of guy & this type of action isn't at every track in N. America then the Boss never let him leave the backside. (In over forty years playing the game, I never heard of a jock with substance abuse issues. Yeah really) ;>) ;>)
Jim Mattos More than 1 year ago
im an x trainer. i didnt care for some of racing scenes. the race took far to long. im a great fan of nick nolte, dustin hoffman, dennise farina, and gary stevans. to put these great actors together i thought it had to be a great show. i was just about hooked on the 8th episode. now im pissed not knowing where the show was heading., john ortez was awsome as was the vet from law and order. my favorite was that cutie jockey. she got a great accent. i love all animals. i saw horses die almost daily. its not there fault. they depend on us to be fair with them. all in all im a little disapointed about the whole thing.
Michael Pressley More than 1 year ago
It amazes me that unfortunate incidents which involve animals brings out the PETA nuts and the Christians do nothing about Bill M., Lady Gaga and the trash that our grandchildren are growing up in. May God Forgive Us.
mike More than 1 year ago
It all comes down to ratings-and yes it was not the best account of racing-but does any reality show on E or MTV show real life??????It was a good sunday night show-and hbo did not cave into peta but greed-they could have said do show and use race footage-like that has never been done before.It would not surprise me that HBO called Peta to do this and they look innocent.
Vincent Condeni More than 1 year ago
I loved the LUCK Series even with its numerous flaws and warts! It's unfortunate that unrelated horse racing incidents and deaths led to the series cancellation! However, I have a contrary view: Maybe low ratings was the primary reason for the cancellation! Also, in either 6 furlough or 1 and 1/16 mile races, it appeared the Horses were running 2, 3 or 4 times around the beautiful Santa Anita Track. These racing scenes were unrealistic and damaged the quality of every exciting racing event!
dave More than 1 year ago
What a bum wrap Horse Racing is getting again. These type of incidents happen time to time, why take it out on the production of this show? I'm not sure about the previous 2 incidents but this is a brilliantly produced show that I think all the people who are or ever been involved in Horse Racing enjoy it. The acting and the producition is amazing and I enjoyed every minute of it..
John More than 1 year ago
Anyone know how the show got its horses? Did they lease actual horses in training or pick up spent claimers or OTTBs? Just curious,, don't know if it would have made a difference.