A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Out of ‘Luck’ on HBO

“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,” HBO wrote in a statement announcing the cancelation of the TV drama.

One might have hoped that they would have been heartbroken over the deaths of the horses in their care.

The drama series was promoted as looking at horse-racing’s “seedier” side, with Dustin Hoffman playing a crime kingpin who is scheming to gain control of a racetrack and introduce more kinds of gambling.

But you don’t need a fictional show to see the “seedier” side: the whole industry is seedy. And Luckhas unwittingly shown this in a way that most people have never seen.

On Tuesday, a third horse died in the production of this show. She was being led to a stable at the Santa Anita Racetrack, where the show is being filmed, when she became spooked, reared up, fell back and suffered a head injury. Later in the day, she was humanely killed.

Two horses had already been injured and euthanized. In those cases, HBO defended its treatment of the animals, saying it had worked with the American Humane Association (AHA) and racing industry experts to implement safety protocols that exceed film and TV industry standards.

AHA monitors what happens on the set of cooperating filmmakers, but not what happens off the set. Its work is sanctioned and supported by the entertainment industry.

Last year, after the second horse died, AHA called for a production halt at the Racetrack until new protocols were put in place.

Dr. Rick Arthur, medical director of the state racing board, said that injuries like this one are more common than thought.

HBO said that an AHA representative was at the track that “all safety precautions were in place,” and that it was “deeply saddened” by the horse’s death.

The show’s stars, including Dustin Hoffman and Dennis Farina have not yet commented on the death of the third horse.

PETA senior vice president Lisa Lange says that all three cases were accidents waiting to happen.

“We got the necropsy reports on those horses through a Freedom of Information Act (petition),” she said, “and what we found was shocking. One of the horses had been pumped full of painkilling drugs, another one was old and arthritic.”

On its blog, PETA writes about the first two horses who died:

Both were retired racehorses who wouldn’t understand that when they went through the starting gate on a racetrack, it was just for a TV show and not a real race.

Outlaw Yodeler was a 5-year-old thoroughbred who hadn’t raced in months and was apparently so sore that he was given a potent cocktail of muscle relaxant and anti-inflammatory and painkilling drugs, including Butorphanol, a painkiller so strong that it’s often used as an analgesic for horses undergoing some kinds of surgery.

The other horse, whose name we believe is Marc’s Shadow, was 8 years old and arthritic and had not raced in nearly four years.

Veterinarians who were involved with the horses say the painkillers were given to one horse to calm him or her down after a leg injury.

“HBO did everything they possibly could to ensure the safety of those horses,” Dr. Arthur told CBS News.

But that’s not an acceptable excuse. Even if HBO had been doing everything it could, all that this means is that the situation was, in itself, far too dangerous. If you’re doing everything possible, and three horses sustain fatal injuries, then something more fundamental is seriously wrong.

And if, as Dr. Arthur admits, injuries like this are common throughout the industry, then the “criminal” activity that this show was designed to portray is not fiction but fact.

Very simply, horseracing itself is a crime against these animals. Many are injured and killed every season as part of the so-called “sport of kings.” Others, who don’t measure up, especially the young and the old, are sold for slaughter.

Yesterday, all further filming for the second season of the show was canceled. HBO said in a statement:

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.

Several commentators are saying that HBO was looking for a way out of Luckanyway. While more than a million people watched the first episode of this expensive show, viewership had dropped by about half.

As Andrew Cohen of The Atlantic wryly noted:

In the very first episode of Luck, before it had attached itself to its audience, [producers] Mann and Milch included a scene where a horse had to be “put down” on the track. Talk about bad karma.