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'Luck': It was a mistake to euthanize HBO's show about horse racing [Blowback]

March 21, 2012 |  6:30 am


Richard Nemec, a Los Angeles writer and $2 bettor, disagrees with a Monday editorial that applauded HBO's decision to cancel "Luck." His rebuttal is below. If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed and would like to participate in Blowback, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

We’re on a losing streak in Southern California, if not statewide, that just got worse with the recent cancellation of the HBO television series, “Luck,” which had none. As a result, more than a new TV series with poor viewer ratings but critical acclaim has been euthanized unnecessarily.

The Times called the cancellation of “Luck” “the right ending,” but it was no ending at all. The previously planned last of the first year’s episodes will air Sunday. That’s the real ending, artistically. Politically, the show was whacked as some of its characters were -- uselessly and violently.  There will be no second season, and that’s too bad.

In today’s Internet-fed, hasty, gotta-be-quick decision-making, the show’s producers and their antagonists from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, overreacted to a fatal barn accident to a filly used in the filming (but not during filming).

As a result, much more than a TV series died; throw in damage to the regional economy and a venerable horse racing venue and the loss of a new melding of art, sport and life that rarely is depicted with so much insight and introspection.

Predictably, the state horse racing board has promised a full investigation. It also has assured anyone who will listen that the animals involved in “Luck” were much more closely scrutinized and protected than horses and other animals used in other motion picture productions.

Trainers and jockeys alike at Santa Anita Park, an internationally recognized thoroughbred racing venue, were saddened to see the series abruptly end. They liked what it did for horse racing and for the local economy. They had friends like Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens who had starring roles in the series.

Veteran Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally, 79, who has trained five former national champions, was unabashedly critical of the decision and PETA’s indirect role in it. “Accidents happen in our business just like they do in any sport,” he said. “It is a foregone conclusion that anything can go wrong.”

The Times, other editorial pages and entertainment industry rumor sheets seem to agree the cancellation was the right move and was coming anyway due to low ratings. In addition, insiders in the horse racing game, such as the Canadian-based owner of Santa Anita, reportedly felt “Luck” was painting too negative a picture of thoroughbred racing.

I could not disagree more. As a frequent amateur handicapper and small-time bettor, particularly at Santa Anita, I warmed to the TV series and loved the realistic quality of the races and the stables at venerable Santa Anita.

Santa Anita for me is more than a horse racing or betting venue; it is a slice of my life shared with three close friends. At retirement ages all, we come to the track to bond. We have been buoyed by the larger and younger-looking crowds the track has been attracting since “Luck” began.

Putting PETA aside because it objects to almost any use of animals any time in the movies, I think the people who watched “Luck” but grew increasingly uncomfortable with it, such as Frank Stronach, the track’s owner, were having trouble with its edginess, which in this case was also its strength, portraying nearly everyone as flawed.

While it can be questioned how accurately “Luck” captured the sport of kings, it cannot be denied that the actors, writers and moviemakers captured their characters in nuanced, sensitive ways that we see too infrequently in so many of today’s celebrity-fixated motion pictures. It surely will win awards even though it has failed commercially.

Like in life itself, we are all seeking an edge, a sense of belonging, friends we can trust, and, oh, yes, a little bit of luck.


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 --Richard Nemec

Photo: Kerry Condon in a scene from HBO's series "Luck." Credit: Gusmano Cesaretti / HBO

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