02/09/2012 2:16PM

Santa Anita: ‘Luck’ trainers getting stable ready for close-ups


ARCADIA, Calif. – Although HBO announced only last week that the horse racing drama “Luck” will have a 10-program second season in 2013, work has been going on behind the scenes at Santa Anita for much longer to prepare the 45 ex-racehorses used in racing scenes.

Led by trainers Matt Chew and Keith and Scott Craigmyle, the horses have been in training since the start of the year, going through gallops and daily exercise on the infield training track each morning.

Filming for the second season is tentatively scheduled to begin Feb. 21. By then, Chew and the Craigmyles will have decided which members of the herd are best suited for certain types of filming, such as scenes in the paddock, walking ring, starting gate, and the replication of races. Nearly all of those scenes will be filmed on Santa Anita’s dark days – Mondays through Wednesdays – through the summer.

The show, which is produced by longtime horse owner David Milch and Michael Mann, debuted to 1.1 million viewers on Jan. 29. HBO quoted a figure of 3.3 million viewers, counting a December preview of the first episode and rebroadcasts, growing to 7 million counting all platforms including DVR viewing. The second episode of “Luck” aired the evening of Super Bowl Sunday, and viewing figures were not available.

The scenes involving horses are closely monitored by the American Humane Association and the California Horse Racing Board. Working in conjunction with the trainers and HBO, those organizations have developed protocols for horse safety, a list of measures that was expanded last spring after two horses involved in filming a racing scene had to be euthanized because of injuries.

“The incidents that occurred caused us to review the protocol,” Chew said. “We re-evaluated and saw what we could do better. We’ve set a high bar that is higher than any racing jurisdiction.

“The success of the show depends on us keeping our horses safe. HBO has made that first and foremost in their approach.”

Dr. Rick Arthur, the racing board’s equine medical director, said that some of the protocols put into place included total access to the horses’ medical records and pre-performance examinations done when the horses were not under any medication by a racing board veterinarian. In this case, Gary Beck, the official veterinarian at Los Alamitos, has observed the “Luck” horses. HBO officials said the horses also were extensively X-rayed.

“I’m very comfortable with it,” Arthur said of the protocols. “HBO reached out to myself and others and asked for suggestions.”

One of the fatal injuries occurred in 2010, when the series pilot was being filmed, and another last spring, during taping of the first season. According to an HBO publicist, veterinarians were on hand during both incidents and made the decision that the injured horses needed to be euthanized. The American Humane Association had representatives present.

“I think they were unlucky,” Arthur said of the breakdowns.

Most of the horses used in filming have raced at Santa Anita, but were largely not successful. Chew said they were acquired for costs ranging from $2,000 to $8,000 each, and that HBO will see to it that they have homes when their involvement in filming concludes. Most, he said, will be riding horses for individuals.

“We are responsible to take care of them for the rest of their lives,” he said. “They’re all well-broken and they have good dispositions.”

Chew operates a 10-horse racing stable at Santa Anita, but on Wednesday morning he was overseeing the training of the 45 “Luck” horses, first schooling them in the gate and then watching them gallop on the main track in close proximity to a pickup truck that will later be mounted with a camera during the filming of racing scenes. When the horses were in the gate, Chew stood several feet in front of the stalls, waving a white towel affixed to an 8-foot pole near their faces, mimicking how close a camera would be during filming. When the horses were galloping, Chew stood on a custom-made step on the back of the truck, holding the same pole, so the horses could become accustomed to something in their faces while in motion.

Each horse was given a grade, from A to F, by Chew and two other observers, marking how they handled each task.

Chew admited that his “Luck” responsibilities were taking up a lot of his time, but said that it was worth the effort.

“My business has suffered a little bit,” he said. “This is the chance of a lifetime to work with talented people.”