HBO Ends Thoroughbred Racing Show ‘Luck’ After Third Horse Dies

Time Warner Inc. (TWX)’s HBO canceled production of the series “Luck,” citing safety concerns after the death of a third horse working on the show, which was built on characters involved in thoroughbred racing.

No matter how many precautions are taken, the potential for future accidents can’t be eliminated, New York-based HBO said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

Cancellation of the series, starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, follows the euthanization on March 13 of an injured horse that had reared, fallen backward and hit its head. The show had suspended filming with the animals pending an inquiry. The decision was made yesterday to end the show permanently.

“The two of us loved this series, loved the cast, crew and writers,” executive producers Michael Mann and David Milch said in the statement. “This has been a tremendous collaboration and one that we plan to continue in the future.”

The inquiry into the third horse’s death, including a postmortem examination and toxicology test, will continue, the California Horse Racing Board said in a statement.

“Luck,” filmed at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, had drawn criticism following the death of two horses in 2010 and 2011, leading to one prior halt in shooting and added safety measures.

The network has aired seven of the first season’s nine episodes. HBO ordered a 10-episode second season in January after the pilot was watched by a total of 3.3 million viewers.

Horses’ Safety

Hoffman, in his first starring role on as TV series, plays Chester “Ace” Bernstein, a wealthy businessman with murky ties to organized crime, who has just been released from prison. He seeks to take over the racetrack and add casino gambling, and in the process gain revenge on a partner he blames for his incarceration.

Bloomberg critic Greg Evans wrote that “Luck” is “loaded with the teasing, tension-filled plots and weirdly convoluted dialogue that’s marked every Milch show since ‘N.Y.P.D. Blue.’”

The latest horse to die wasn’t involved in filming at the time of the accident. It had received an exam prior to scheduled shooting later in the day and was being walked to the stable when it reared, HBO said.

A representative of the American Humane Association, which monitors animal safety on films and television shows, was on the set when the accident occurred, and all safety precautions were in place, HBO said.

“While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future,” the network said. “Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision.”

Stock Footage

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a Norfolk, Virginia-based advocacy group seeking a law-enforcement investigation into the horses’ treatment on the show, welcomed the decision and said in a statement that stock racing footage should be used if it was resumed.

Canceling the show was the best decision HBO could make, American Human Association said yesterday in a statement. The organization said it will reach out to HBO about the “disposition of the horses in the ‘Luck’ barn and ensure that they are retired properly.”

Time Warner, based in New York, fell 1.5 percent to $35.98 yesterday at the close. The shares are little changed this year.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andy Fixmer in Los Angeles at afixmer@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

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