Updated on 03/18/2012 10:46AM

Santa Anita horsemen sad to see 'Luck' gone

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ARCADIA, Calif. – There was shock and dismay at Santa Anita on Thursday morning regarding the sudden cancellation of the HBO series “Luck,” which utilized a number of local horsemen in its production, and based several characters on real-life people.

“Luck” was taken out of production on Wednesday, one day after a stable-area accident claimed the life of a horse used in the production. That turn of events angered both trainer Julio Canani and Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, who believed there was an overreaction on the part of animal rights activists to an incident that could have happened at a riding club or in the show-jumping ring.

“All these people, out of work,” said Canani, the inspiration for the character Turo Escalante, played by the actor John Ortiz.

Canani said he spoke with Ortiz on Wednesday night, after the cancellation was announced. Ortiz, in particular, had embraced racing since being cast on “Luck.” He was a frequent visitor to the track, was a presenter at the Eclipse Awards, and last Sunday was the host of a Latin-themed celebration in the Santa Anita infield.

“Everybody likes him,” Canani said. “He came to my barn before they started the show and followed me for three months, learning how I talk, everything. What a nice guy.”

“Accident happen,” McAnally said Thursday morning. “Luckily, things like that don’t happen often. What happened with that horse was no reflection on the show. These horses get the best of care because we love them.”

Canani, in a separate interview, said, “We take care of these horses. They get better care than humans.”

McAnally said he had a racehorse in his care perish in the same manner two years ago.

“He just flipped over backwards. We had to put him down,” McAnally said.

“In this particular case,” McAnally added, “whoever is objecting is just wrong.”

Less than 24 hours after the cancellation, there were few reminders that the show had been a part of Santa Anita for the past two years. Signage related to “Luck” was already gone, and many of the production trailers that were in the parking lot had been removed.

“Luck” was monitored by the American Humane Association, which has representatives on all television and film productions that involve the use of animals.

Jone Bouman, a local representative of the AHA, on Thursday afternoon described the fatality rate on "Luck" as "unprecedented."

"In the last five years, of all the things we monitor - and that includes films, episodic television, even commercials - there was only one other horse death in the 2,000 productions we monitored, before the three on 'Luck'," Bouman said.

According to Bouman, that death occurred on the film "3:10 to Yuma." Bouman said there were no fatalities on the recent films "War Horse," "Secretariat," and "Seabiscuit.

"Ratings for “Luck,” while low compared with other HBO shows, were not insignificant. According to figures from HBO, “Luck” averaged 4.3 million viewers per episode, a number that includes the Sunday night premiere, repeat telecasts, DVR usage, and HBO on Demand.

“True Blood” averages 12.6 million viewers, and “Game of Thrones” averages 9.3 million viewers, according to HBO.

On Wednesday night, Stuart Levine, a managing editor at the entertainment trade publication Variety, said on Twitter that assumptions that HBO canceled the series because of ratings are not accurate.

“Those who say ‘Luck’ wouldn’t have been canceled if ratings were higher don’t understand HBO business model,” Levine wrote. “It’s subscriptions that count.”

HBO produces “Luck” in addition to airing it, so there is no chance the show would be picked up by another entity. Other television shows could conceivably go to another network. “House,” for instance, is produced by Universal and airs on Fox, so if Fox canceled “House,” another network in theory could buy the show from Universal.

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

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

William Hirst More than 1 year ago
I have posted already on other sites. HBO very left-wing, Bill maher, Rosie O'Donnel etc. Santa Anita new dirt surface: lost 22 horses last year. Shortage of horses in California. I don't like breakdowns and people who don't like horseracing. I am embarassed to be a native Californian. Let's Keep racing off TV (except TVG,HRTV.) We will never win with the creepy wierdos.
Thomas De Fusco More than 1 year ago
HBO just lost a long term subscriber, cancelling this show was a complete over reaction to an unforeseeable accident, too bad because LUCK was one of the most entertaining shows ever produced....the greedy executives at HBO have folded to the pressure of PETA and have put many people out of work and probably will have some of the horses served as dinner within the next few months, at some "UPSCALE CHIC" restaurant they eat in. This was truly a terrible decision and while PETA has an important mission the impact of such a decision is catastrophic for some people.U should be ashamed of yourselves
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Sorry. That's 'Hovdey' with an 'e'.
Sheila O'Callaghan More than 1 year ago
LUCK is an artistic venture which afforded horses a chance to have their time in the limelight. Why can't PETA spend their energy stopping the vanning of horses to slaughter in Mexico and Canada. Far better for a noble steed to die at Santa Anita. It's heaven already. Accidents happen. The racetrack is a mirror of existece with the gamet of experience ranging from the joy and majesty of Zenyatta to the depths of misery as remembered in the death of Ferdinand. Our Kentucky Derby winner carted off to Japan and slaughtered for whom to eat, i dare not ponder. PETA investigate that. The Sport of Kings once again misunderstood by myopic minds. Long live the track and the horses born to run. Bring back LUCK. P.S. if Jay Hovdy is involved with a project one knows it is beyond reproach.
Heather Seiden More than 1 year ago
Well said, Sheila -- PETA takes something like this incident, blows it out of proportion and people take this little soundbite and run with it. And I agree that they completely ignore the REAL problems such as slaughter. Luck was a brilliantly done show and also brought jobs to the area... Also, I noticed that Santa Anita was really crowded on the days I went there - I think more so than usual... One other note: there were some scenes (such as the one where Nolte is watching Gett'n UpMorning win his first race) that just brought me to tears... it was so magnificent and beautifully done. Thank you David Milch and Michael Mann for a brief love letter to the sport and animals that we love so much.
richard barton More than 1 year ago
Maybe (r.d.) in looking at the trees, you missed the whole dang forest! For instance,The trainer looking on enviably as the novice horse loving owners feed their prize carrots. I think the scene captured an introspective moment from a trainer that has been corrupted by gambling and greed. I believe, the subleties were quite grand, indeed!
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
That was one of the most cheesy and nauseatingly naiive moments. That just does not happen...and the hapless owners looked as estranged and frightened as their new aquisition did from being a real racehorse. He looked like a lead pony with a shot of acepromazine: given to him so he didn't bite his new owners. (Escalante..keep your hand flat etc.) And that is what the problem was with this show: it was bogus.
richard barton More than 1 year ago
If you want real racing, go to the casino, like i do, and watch race after race, track after track...gets pretty mundane. This wasn't trying to be that.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Lisa (below)..I couldn't have said it better. This was always going to be a tough task: rather like splicing together the Texas Chain-saw Massacre with Gosforth Park. But what really disappointed me, considering the cast, writers and previous experience that they'd had in directing dramas, was just how bogus this whole series was. Shame on you David Milch and Jay Hovdey...a Grade 8 student of drama would and should have done better. As for PETA's position...today's Globe & Mail (Canada) stated that the horses used in this series were unfit, broken-down and therefore drugged (treated) for the staged races. If this is true, the right decision has been made, as such people should not be allowed near horses.
Sal Rinado More than 1 year ago
I don't know what show you were watching or how much time you have spent in the business but this was a portrayal of life on the backside. Many people have no knowledge of it so in some cases it was oversimplified. This show was good for the industry and very enjoyable for many. Of course the horses would be older and not current stars of racing but I'm sure they were given excellent care. Anyone in the business who has ever saddled a horse knows that horses are animals of flight and many times accidents happen. You never know what happens in a race that could return the horse with a career ending injury. Horses can't talk they don't always let you know if they have a hidden issue. I and many of my friends (all in the horse business) will miss the show. It's too bad the public is missinformed......Sal from AZ
Lisa Johnson More than 1 year ago
There isn't a series in production that is TRUE to any industry, get over it. I am pulling my HBO plan as well, it was the only reason I signed up. I've been a racetracker for 35 years and still work in the industry, although not now a horseman. Sure, "Luck" portrayed actors who couldn't ride and language and situations that people don't want to hear about (wake up people, really?) and there's always going to be the sorrowful accidents and injuries that happen. It's the nature of the business. Not a one of us true horseman LIKES to have a horse with an injury and the ONLY good thing about anything tragic happening is the horse gets immediate attention, limb support and/or drugs on board, and in worse case scenario, doesn't have to wait to be EUTHANIZED. Not killed. None of these horses were tortured, purposely injured, or deliberately put in danger. What PETA does NOT get is that the average horse in America doesn't get this kind of care, feeding and exercise. In fact, there are more horses dying by ignorance, starvation, accidents left untreated, abandonment, and torture in backyards every DAY that never get any attention. Funny, I only see PETA going after the 'big' dairy, pork and chicken farms but now that there's some interest in "Luck" they had to make up and inflate stories on horse condition. Sign me Lisa J in OKC
Jack More than 1 year ago
Julio enjoyed being PORTRAYED as a SLEEZ BALL, Thanks to Milch's opinion..
Jack More than 1 year ago
Foget about the HORSE How about the ABUSE the Jockey's live with. They are FORCED to STARVE to death to make weight and then weight is added to their horses saddle.. How cruel is that PETA.......
Jack More than 1 year ago
What a JOKE, I'm glad the show was CANCELED, Mr Milch, a TRACK DEGENERATE chose to to show a DEPRESSING look at the life of the BACKSTRETCH. I'm happy to see Julio enjoys being PORTRAYED as a SLEEZ ball. Damn Julio, I really feel SORRY for all those Millionaire ACTORS out of work.. Milch LOSES more at the track in a year than the ENTIRE cast will make. He failed to show the TRUE BEAUTY of this great game,and the LIFETIME friendships that are born out of having a LOVE for the game. No, Milch elects to show the WORLD a bunch of DRUG users and ADDICTED gamblers. The show was FAILING in the ratings, PERIOD. To bad Mr Milch NEVER expierenced the UP-LIFTING aspect of the "Greatest mind game that ever exsisted"
Tj Downing More than 1 year ago
@Jack.. what a sad and bitter person you are. The show's characters were still being developed. While Escalante loved cashing his tickets, he was an excellent trainer and obviously cared about his horses. It took two years to get that horse back to the races. He also took that boy home and obviously there was some connection that had not been revealed yet. There IS true beauty to this game, as well as trainers who cheat, owners that launder money, and perhaps ALL of these items would have been shown to us. I believe, Jack, you are the one who doesn't get it.
Mike More than 1 year ago
Well said TJ