HBO Cancels 'Luck' After Third Horse Death

Premium television network HBO issued a statement March 14 saying it has decided to cancel production of the horse racing drama "Luck" after a horse that was part of the series died the preceding day at Santa Anita Park, in Arcadia, Calif. Meanwhile, the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) said it is investigating the latest incident.

The most recent accident, in which the horse reportedly reared while being walked to her barn and fell and struck her head, was the third equine death associated with production of the program. "Luck" was filming its second season when the latest equine fatality occurred.

"It is with heartbreak that executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann together with HBO have decided to cease all future production on the series Luck," the HBO statement read.

"Safety is always of paramount concern," the statement continued. "We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production, higher in fact than any protocols existing in horse racing anywhere with many fewer incidents than occur in racing or than befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures. While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future. Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision.

"We are immensely proud of this series, the writing, the acting, the filmmaking, the celebration of the culture of horses, and everyone involved in its creation."

Milch and Mann were quoted as saying, “The two of us loved this series, loved the cast, crew and writers. This has been a tremendous collaboration and one that we plan to continue in the future.”

HBO renewed the series, starring Dustin Hoffman, in January for a second season only a few days after the show's premiere.

The show faced intense criticism from animal rights activists after the first two horses died as the result of accidents during filming of racing sequences for the opening season.

The CHRB is following up on the latest fatality, according to a statement from the agency.

"Even though HBO announced the cancellation of the Luck series Wednesday, the CHRB will conduct a thorough investigation, which will include a postmortem examination and toxicology testing," the statement said.

"The CHRB is assured by those onsite at Santa Anita who are responsible for equine health and safety that every precaution was being taken to protect the horses appearing in the HBO program," the statement continued. "In fact, because the filming was taking place in an enclosure within the CHRB’s jurisdiction, the level of care for these animals exceeded the level of care for animals on other filming locations. Everyone involved in the handling of the horses that appeared on Luck is licensed by the CHRB and qualified to do so."

Rick Arthur, DVM, CHRB equine medical director, said in a preliminary report that the horse slipped on a hind leg when she reared, going over backward and striking her head on the ground.

"Three equine veterinarians were on the scene and did everything possible on behalf of the horse," Arthur reported. "They were Heidi Agnic, DVM, HBO’s attending veterinarian and licensed by the CHRB as a racetrack practitioner; Gary Beck, DVM, who normally works as the CHRB official veterinarian at Los Alamitos Race Course, and Scott Meyer, DVM."

The horse reportedly had just passed a physical inspection done by Beck and was being led back to her barn when she was injured.

Despite its strong creative team and cast, the show has reportedly performed poorly. The premiere, according to press reports, attracted just 1.1 million viewers and later episodes have struggled to hit the 500,000 mark.

About the Author

Jack Shinar

Jack Shinar is a frequent contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine and is part of their Digital Media department.

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