02/11/2010 12:00AM

Q&A: David Milch

Email
Benoit & Associates
Aside from his Emmys, David Milch's trophy case also includes a pair of Breeders' Cup victories as owner of Val Royal and Gilded Time.

Emmy Award-winning television writer and producer of shows such as "Deadwood" and "NYPD Blue" is about to begin production of a new HBO show, "Luck," set at a racetrack

Birthdate: March 23, 1945, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Family: wife, Rita Stern; daughters Elizabeth and Libby; son Ben.

Got into racing because . . .: "My Dad was involved in it. He was a surgeon. He used to take us to Saratoga in August, which is good because that's when the racing was."

Why do you like it so much? "It's an extremely complicated and sometimes obscure business to try to understand. That's how I try to make my living. It is a venue of both fascination and dread. That's usually where people spend most of their lives."

Describe the synopsis of "Luck": "It's kind of a top-to-bottom, kaleidoscopic view of life at the track. Gamblers, trainers, owners, administration. In the same way that 'Deadwood' followed multiple storylines, that's what we'll be doing. I do believe a racetrack is a community, like 'Deadwood' was."

What is the timetable for when the show airs? "We hope to go on the air in January of next year. We are going to start shooting in March. We'll shoot and then probably stop, fine tune, then go back. We'll be shooting at Santa Anita and then probably in Santa Clarita at the Autry Ranch, where we shot 'Deadwood.' Right now we're doing all the casting and BS. It's safer for me to write."

Why did you decide to do a show set at the track? "I started writing this show in 1973, something like that. As I said, it's a venue of fascination and dread. It's something that compels your interest and gives you access to your imagination. If you're going to sustain a series, you need all of those components. The racetrack has always been that for me. It's a setting for drama of all different kinds. The fundamental appeals are prehistorical. It has to do with man's ostensible mastery of his environment and subordination to the outcome. Man likes to think he is the master, but in fact when they are 40 yards from the finish, you realize it hasn't got much to do with you now."

Will we see any familiar racing faces having cameos, or more, in "Luck"? "Absolutely. It's my hope and intention, and we're pretty well along toward realizing it, that a whole bunch of jockeys will have main roles in it."

Al Swearengen in "Deadwood" was the greatest TV character ever. Do you have a similarly diabolical character in "Luck"? "I don't think Swearengen was diabolical, except for two-thirds the time. I think this show can be really good for the game. It's warts and all, but it's still a beautiful, beautiful sport, and I think its warts only add ultimately to the complexity of its beauty. I don't know how many more times I'll get to the plate. This is the one I've been wanting to do my whole life."

Play casting agent. Who would play your trainer, Julio Canani, in the "Julio Canani Story"? "We've cast the part of Escalante, a trainer who is roughly based on Julio, except he tells the truth a little more. But who doesn't? He's going to be played by a wonderful actor named John Ortiz, a theater actor from New York who has a theater company in New York with Philip Seymour Hoffman."

How often do you attend the races? "It depends on who I'm lying to. I have several different masks that I wear."

Best gambling story ever: "The day my horse Disturbingthepeace won the [2002] Bing Crosby at Del Mar, I had him singled at 16-1 in the pick six. That was OK. I almost broke even that day. I had the pick six, and with all the consolations it paid like a quarter of a million dollars."

Best horse owned: "Gilded Time. Val Royal was a lovely horse. Tuzla was a great filly. I loved Marvin's Policy because he was such a trier. Echo Eddie, he broke his maiden in a maiden claimer up north, won a million dollars, and got beat a nose in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai. I've been lucky to be associated with a whole bunch of good ones."

Biggest win as an owner: "Val Royal [2001 Mile] and Gilded Time [1992 Juvenile] in Breeders' Cup races. I guess Gilded Time because he was not bred to go two turns. He didn't really want to do it. It's not because he won a Breeders' Cup race, but because what I got to see was the deepest and most important aspect of horse's gift - his indomitability, bravery, resolution."

Best horse seen: "I guess Dr. Fager breaking the world record at Arlington. That was a pretty serious performance."

Why were you in Chicago? "I was just being a degenerate. I was knocking around at that time. I was involved in a pharmaceutical delivery service."

Favorite TV show other than one you've worked on: "'Naked City.'"

Hobbies: "Ineffectual excuses."

Childhood hero: "Luke Easter, a baseball player for the Cleveland Indians who played in the minor leagues for the Buffalo Bisons. He was at end of his career then. There was a kid coming up, and Luke used to say, 'With your legs and my brains, I'd still be in the major leagues.'"

Childhood dream: "To live past childhood."

People most admired: "The presidents of all the investment banks, because they're the best crooks I know about."

Future racing-related ambitions: "To see the realization of 'Luck.'"