When HBO announced the cancellation of the horse racing show ‘Luck’ in 2011 after a third horse died during production, some show fans may have missed this Sunday drama, but they were few and far between.

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The abysmal ratings for the first season did not prevent HBO from signing on for a second. However, the animal rights activists’ response to another death of a horse during production certainly did. Of course, since the second season was greenlit immediately after the first episode aired, it may have been a case of jumping the gun on the part of HBO’s top brass.

‘Luck’ Animal Welfare

HBO attributed the cancellation to its deep concern for the welfare of the animals while simultaneously stating that all possible precautions were taken.

HBO’s official statement stated that “While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen, and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future”. Let’s be straight, this statement certainly makes no mention of the shockingly poor ratings and lacklustre plot.

Conflicting reports regarding the treatment of the animals drew interest from animal rights activist group PETA. The American Humane Association representatives maintained that proper safety precautions were always followed, and the death of the most recent horse was unrelated to filming. The third horse reared and fell over, hitting its head, while on the way back to its stable.

The safety precautions underwent review after the death of the first two horses. At the recommendation of the AHA, filming on the first season ceased until additional measures finished assessment and began operation.

PETA obtained necropsy reports indicating that one of the earlier horses received significant amounts of potent painkillers. Dr Rick Arthur, a veterinarian at the Santa Anita racetrack, publicly stated that HBO took every precaution to ensure the safety of the horses. PETA’s contention is that horse racing accounts for enough deaths; a show about horse racing does not need to add to the toll.

‘Luck’ Gets Unlucky

Though HBO is well-known for its patience with debut shows, often extending poorly rated shows for a second season, one must wonder if it would have cancelled a blockbuster show. The poor ratings, despite the acting talent of Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, are sure to have played a role in the final decision.

Before the show aired, bettors would have given it solid odds for success. After all, the powerhouse combination of David Milch (Deadwood) and Michael Mann (Miami Vice and Heat) should have created a show with witty dialogue and stunning cinematography. Unfortunately, combining two perfectionists behind the scenes did not translate into a perfect show.

The concept included some stunning elements. Dustin Hoffman, playing a recently released kingpin, enjoys a deep and abiding friendship with Dennis Farina, playing his henchman and driver. The wheeling and dealing behind the scenes of the racing world have the potential for excitement but never seemed to get there. The multi-layered plot also followed four-track junkies; several horse trainers, one of whom is Nick Nolte, two jockeys, and a manager.

Given the number of stories shown simultaneously, a slow start was forgivable. Unfortunately, it lasted the entire first season. The finale finally built the tension and excitement that audiences crave, just in time for the cancellation notice. The romance and nobility of horse racing were reduced to the seedy, backdoor deals that are an inevitable part of any large industry.

Overall, it is probably a good thing that this show was not titled “Good Luck” since it certainly wasn’t for HBO. Now, HBO may have signed up this show and lost but that doesn’t mean you have to. Why not check out the latest sign up offer from Betfair.