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.