Category: Luck

New documents prompt fresh PETA complaint about HBO's 'Luck'

Luck

More bad news for HBO's now-canceled "Luck."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed a new complaint with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, the California Veterinary Medical Board and the Pasadena Humane Society alleging severe mistreatment of horses on the set of "Luck," based on a series of documents the organization says it obtained from an unnamed whistleblower.

According to PETA, horses on the set were deliberately underfed to save money, sick horses were used during filming, other sick horses disappeared from the set without explanation, improperly trained horses were used during racing scenes and horses were regularly tranquilized. PETA is not releasing the documents -- which it says include emails, complaint forms and notes taken after incidents on set -- to the press.

The organization says the treatment of horses was supervised by trainer Matthew Chew. It alleges that American Humane Assn. officers urged AHA executives to recommend Chew's removal from the production, but there's no evidence that any action was taken.

While there had previously been various allegations of animal neglect on the set, PETA says these documents are the proof.

In a statement, HBO said, "The safety and welfare of the horses was always of paramount concern.  While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, working closely with American Humane Association to review and improve protocols on an ongoing basis, it was impossible to guarantee no further accidents would occur. Accordingly, we reached the difficult decision to cease production."

It was certainly a costly decision. In Time Warner's earnings report this week, the company listed a $35-million "impairment" related to the cancellation of "Luck," which had just begun filming its second season despite low ratings.

The series, starring Dustin Hoffman as a mobster looking to control Santa Anita Park in the Los Angeles area, saw a number of animal deaths during production, with two horses euthanized during the first season and a third during the second season, which finally spurred the show's cancellation.

[Updated, 5:48 p.m. May 3: American Humane Assn. Chief Communications Officer Mark Stubis says, "Our folks are really vigilant and throughout they were consistently focused on the welfare of the animals. After the surprising and dismaying second accident, we demanded a number of protocols that would reinforce our already strict guidelines... If there was a horse in the morning that appeared sick or medicated, they were pulled and not allowed to be used in filming."

As to PETA's allegation that calls for trainer Matthew Chew to be removed from the production were ignored, Stubis says, "We did recommend [to the production] that a movie trainer be used and not a horse trainer."]

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-- Patrick Kevin Day

 Photo: Nick Nolte in "Luck." Credit: HBO

 

Decoding 'Luck': Place your bets on the final race

Joan Allen, Dustin Hoffman, John Ortiz, Dennis Farina in "Luck" finale.

I’ve finally figured out what Pint of Plain, the name of Ace and Gus’ horse, means. It means scriptwriter Bill Barich is using "Luck" to plug his latest book, "A Pint of Plain," a celebration of the Irish pub. (A “pint of plain” is a Guinness, in tavern terminology.) And you thought HBO was ad-free.

As for Pint of Plain, the horse, this final episode of the season (and now the series, since Season 2 has  been cancelled) takes place on the day of the Western Derby, where he’ll face Southern California’s other great 3-year-old, Gettn’up Morning. Like a race card, "Luck" consists of nine episodes (although at most racetracks, the eighth is the feature race, allowing one more contest for a denouement, or, in less dramatic terms, for horseplayers to get even before going home.)

At breakfast, Gus is reading a newspaper story headlined “Body Found Off Marina del Rey.”

“Ace,” he says, “there’s half a chance this here could be Israel.”

Before they can find out, Ace gets another surprise: His grandson shows up, unannounced, to see Pint of Plain run in the Derby. Although the young man insists Gus bought him a plane ticket, Ace thinks he was sent by Mike, perhaps to make him an easier target. Indeed, Ace is being stalked by a hired assassin from England, who almost gets a clear shot at him before Gus, who smells danger, orders Ace back inside.

"Another 10 seconds and I was on a plane back home,” the hit man tells the man with the telephoto lens who’s been following Ace for several episodes.

Ace and Gus ID Nathan at the morgue, then go to lunch, where they spot their lethal paparazzo. They feign an argument over Ace’s grandson — to make the would-be killer think they've fallen for the plane-ticket ruse — then Ace stalks off toward the bathroom. Photog calls hit man, but when hit man enters the men’s room, pistol drawn, he is ambushed by Gus, who strangles him and leaves his corpse atop a toilet. On their way out of the restaurant, Ace wraps up the rest of his sandwich.

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Decoding 'Luck': Murder on the high seas

Dustin Hoffman Dennis Farina Luck recap
As "Luck" fans have heard, there will be no second season of the best movie or TV show ever made about the world of horse racing. The show was canceled last week after a third horse died on the set. You can read my thoughts about that here. Now, the regularly scheduled recap of the penultimate episode of "Luck."

For the first time since the series premiered, I went to my local track and asked real gamblers what they think about it. David the Owl, who’s kind of like Renzo, in that he hangs around with small-time trainers, loves the series but thought it was ludicrous that the Forays won a $2.6-million Pick Six with an $832 ticket.

FULL COVERAGE: 'Luck'

Big Tom is pretty similar to Marcus. He’s a heavy guy who gets around with a cane. When we split a Pick 4 bet, I felt safe letting him hold the tickets. Where was he going? Big Tom thinks "Luck" shows too much of horse racing’s seedy side.

“I just hope people don’t watch the show and think that everyone at the track is like that,” he said.

I can agree with him when it comes to Ace Bernstein, because this is the episode in which the sliminess and amorality of Ace’s play to take over Santa Anita become apparent. It’s morning at the hotel, and Ace asks Gus about Nathan Israel’s whereabouts.

"Israel check in? Did we hear from the kid yet?”

It’s also morning on Mike’s yacht as he watches a fishing boat put out to sea. Onboard, men in wellies and overalls saw a body into pieces and toss weighted bags over the side.

Ace and Gus receive an email from Israel’s account, tendering his resignation and stating, “I’ve also decided to relocate, and am unavailable for further contact.”

Ace recognizes what it means: “They killed him, Gus.”

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HBO's 'Luck' canceled because racing deaths unacceptable

Barbaro
HBO’s "Luck" was canceled for the same reason real horse racing is fading away: nobody watches, and the modern American public won’t stand for the death of animals in a spectacle.

"Luck" was supposed to be the TV show that brought horse racing back into the public consciousness, nearly four decades after Secretariat appeared on the cover of Time magazine. The writers and actors did their jobs -- as a dedicated railbird, I’ve never seen the grandstand, the backstretch and the jockey’s room portrayed so accurately.

Unfortunately, "Luck’s" legacy will probably be an impression that horse racing is a deadly sport, when in fact, it’s safer than ever for the animals.

But this memo from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suggests what I suspected when I heard about the horse deaths: The prestige HBO drama was almost certainly using retired, even broken-down, Thoroughbreds for the racing scenes, and running them twice a day. Thoroughbreds in their prime are a) at the racetrack, not on movie sets, and b) too valuable to race more than once every few weeks.

For the safety of those pampered horses, in 2006, the California Horse Racing Board ordered every track in the state to replace its dirt with Polytrack, a synthetic surface composed of polypropylene fibers, rubber and silica sand, all beneath a wax coating. Polytrack is gentler on a horse’s joints, and studies since its implementation have shown it reduced racing fatalities from 2.14 per 1,000 starts to 1.55.

Kentucky’s Turfway Park installed the first Polytrack in 2005 after a meet in which 24 horses died. The next year, running on rubber, only three horses broke down. Arlington Park, outside Chicago, cut fatalities in half with a synthetic surface. On the other hand, 12 horses died during last year’s 37-day Del Mar meet.

The Triple Crown tracks -- Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Belmont -- have stuck with traditional dirt. Which is unfortunate, because the switch to Polytrack was hurried along by the death of a famous racehorse, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who broke down in the first strides of the 2006 Preakness and was later euthanized.

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'Luck': Angry David Milch brought baseball bat to edit bay?

Michael Mann and David Milch

The racetrack show "Luck" has been put down, but even before that the show's off-screen creative struggles may have been more interesting than the spare drama that reached the HBO show's meager viewing audience. 

How intense was the tug-of-war between show writer David Milch and director Michael Mann, two of Hollywood’s fiercest perfectionist mavericks? "Luck" costar Nick Nolte said there was one afternoon when Milch cracked under deadline pressure and reached for a Louisville Slugger.

"There was a day that David was going to kill Michael," Nolte said during a recent interview. "I guess I shouldn’t talk about this, but I’ve heard it going around so I guess it’s not a secret. It’s absolutely true. Michael hadn’t turned the film in [for an episode] and David was livid. He said to John [Ortiz], who plays the other trainer on the show, ‘I’m going to go down to the editing room and I’m going to kill Michael Mann.’"

Nolte continued: "The look on Milch's face was intense, and John was pretty upset and he says, ‘David, you really don’t want to do that. You don’t have a gun, do you?’ And Milch tells him, ‘No, I don’t have a gun but I have a baseball bat and I’m going to kill him. If I’m not back in a few hours, get my lawyers on the phone.’ John was beside himself."

What happened next?

"An hour and a half later, Milch comes back and John asks him what happened," Nolte said. "Milch says something like, ‘I went down there and kicked in the door and Mann was there hunched over the Avid [editing console] and he looked back at me and then he just kept working.’ Milch stood there for something like 15 minutes and Mann kept looking back every minute or two but he also kept working. And finally I guess Milch realized that Mann was working as fast as he could."

The actor said he later confirmed the incident with Milch and Mann and others on the "Luck" team. Nolte, who is no stranger to bare-knuckle, raw-behavior moments, shrugged it all off as just a bad day on "Luck" — and, he added, everyone was fortunate it wasn't worse.

"If Michael had been sitting there eating a sandwich when Milch kicked in the door, well, it could have been bad," Nolte said with a raspy laugh.

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— Geoff Boucher

Photo: If David Milch, right, and Michael Mann look intense, it's because they are. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

HBO's 'Luck' runs out of luck

Nick Nolte in "Luck": Click for full coverage

HBO’s “Luck” didn’t have much of it.

The low-rated drama, which is set at a racetrack and stars Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, was abruptly canceled Wednesday after the injury and subsequent euthanasia of a horse used in the production led to widespread criticism. The show was already facing intense criticism from animal rights activists, who were investigating two previous horse deaths connected to the series last year.

The cancellation comes just days after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent HBO a letter charging that “Luck’s” producers ignored advice from animal safety experts and created conditions that posed “unacceptable” risks to equine performers.

FULL COVERAGE: 'Luck'

“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 late Wednesday afternoon.

Milch — creator of HBO’s “Deadwood” — and film director Mann are known for hard-charging and somewhat obsessive work habits as well as an uncompromising creative style.

Initially, HBO agreed to halt the filming of scenes involving horses pending an investigation into the latest animal death and sought to refute the accusations of poor work conditions for the animals: “Recent assertions of lax attitudes or negligence could not be further from the truth.” The network said it partnered with the American Humane Assn., as well as with racing experts, “to implement safety protocols that go above and beyond typical film and TV industry standards and practices.”

In making the cancellation decision, however, the network bowed to the uncertainty inherent in working with live animals — especially when a safety record is already under scrutiny. “While we maintained the highest safety standards possible,” HBO said in a statement, “accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future.”

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HBO cancels 'Luck' after third horse death

HBO has pulled the plug on its gambling drama "Luck"

HBO has pulled the plug on its gambling drama "Luck" after controversy erupted over the deaths of three horses during production.

“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 network said in a statement.

The statement continues: “Safety is always of paramount concern.  We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production, higher in fact than any protocols existing in horseracing 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."

FULL COVERAGE: 'Luck'

The network will air the rest of the first season’s episodes but will not continue with the second season, which had been ordered.

“Luck” was a high-profile bet for HBO. It starred Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte and was shot on location at the Santa Anita Park in Arcadia. HBO made the unusual move of renewing the show for a second season after the first episode of the series premiered earlier this year.

However, the ratings for “Luck” were low, and although critics praised the show's artistry, its slow story lines were a frustration to many viewers.

Mann and Milch offered the following statement: “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.”

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Full coverage and recaps of "Luck"

Decoding 'Luck': Sex, death and horses

Horse scenes suspended on 'Luck' after a third animal death

-- Yvonne Villarreal and Joe Flint

Photo: A scene from the HBO original series "Luck." Credit: Gusmano Cesaretti / HBO

Horse scenes suspended on 'Luck' after a third animal death

A racing scene in "Luck"

Filming of the second season of HBO's horse-racing drama "Luck," starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, continues, but any work involving horses has been suspended after a third horse died during production on Tuesday. Two other horses had died during filming last season.

According to the American Humane Assn., the horse had been inspected and passed by California Horse Racing Board official veterinarian Dr. Gary Beck and was being walked back to its barn at Santa Anita Park when it "reared up, fell backwards and was injured."

After it was determined that the only humane course of action for the horse was to euthanize it, the AHA demanded all filming involving horses be suspended pending a full investigation.

FULL COVERAGE: 'Luck'

In a statement from HBO, the network said it was "deeply saddened" and that "an American Humane Association Certified Safety Representative was on the premises when the accident occurred, and as always, all safety precautions were in place."

This unfortunate news comes just as PETA was moving forward with a complaint about the deaths of two horses during filming of the drama's first season last year.

In a letter dated March 6 to Michael Lombardo, the HBO president of programming, and Bruce Richmond, the vice president of production, original programming West Coast, PETA's vice president of laboratory investigations, Kathy Guillermo, warned: "We are hearing from multiple credible sources that horses are once again at risk on the set of 'Luck.'

"We understand that there are currently no licensed humane officers on the set. This is inexplicable, unacceptable, and dangerous. While the American Humane Association may have a representative present for filming, this is inadequate. We ask you to return at least one, and preferably more, California licensed humane officers to the set and to ensure that their recommendations about the choice of the horses used and the filming methods are followed to the letter.

"During the filming of the first season, there were reportedly four humane officers monitoring the use of horses. We are told that the production company, to its shame, did not always follow their advice, and this accounts, at least in part, for the two deaths during filming. These officers had rejected as unfit a number of horses who, we are now told, have been returned to the 'Luck' set for the filming of the second season."

The animal rights organization has forwarded its original complaint about the two horses in 2010 and 2011, Outlaw Yodeler and Marc's Shadow, to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

According to the necropsy report, both of those horses had been in severe pain and were under heavy medication at the time of their deaths.

Though the first season of "Luck," which is still airing, had only nine episodes, the currently filming second season would have 10 episodes.

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Full coverage and recaps of "Luck"

Decoding 'Luck': Sex, death and horses

"Luck's" Michael Mann to chronicle war photographers for HBO

— Patrick Kevin Day

Photo: Horses from a scene in "Luck." Credit: HBO.

Decoding 'Luck': Sex, death and horses

Ronnie luck recap
Living with a jockey, it turns out, is just as bad as living with a gambler. Leon and Rosie are in bed in this episode of "Luck," but all she can think about is Gettn’up Morning, and whether Walter will let her keep riding the horse once Ronnie Jenkins recovers from his broken collarbone.

“Not knowing where I stand with that horse is driving me crazy,” she says.

I don’t know where Gettn’up Morning’s career is going, but I know this: He’s not the “Derby horse” Joey Rathburn called him in Episode 1. Why? Because his first race was a maiden special weight for 3-year-olds. That means he didn’t race as a 2-year-old, and, as every Derby handicapper knows, the last horse to win the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old was Apollo, in 1882.

However, Gettn’up Morning may have an even better future in store. Most Derby winners are retired to the breeding shed after their 3-year-old season, because winning the race makes them such valuable studs. The Derby is not so much a horse race as a sperm pageant. The most accomplished horses of recent decades -- Cigar, Ghostzapper, Gio Ponti, Tiznow, Zenyatta, Skip Away -- were late bloomers who peaked after their Triple Crown seasons. I see a Breeders’ Cup Classic in Gettn’up Morning’s future.

Ronnie is trying to get clean so he can go along for that ride, attending a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

"I apologized for not following instructions,” Rosie tells Joey. “I’d really like to know where I stand.”

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Decoding 'Luck': The earth quakes and Ace makes his move

Turo escalante john ortiz luck recap
Latinos are the most populous ethnic group in horse racing, but you wouldn’t know it to look at the Anglo-Saxon names of the owners, trainers and breeders in the Daily Racing Form. Few make it as far as "Luck's" Turo Escalante.

Look deeper: there are plenty of Central Americans jockeys, but there are even more grooms, hot walkers and groundskeepers. They’re the grunt workers who feed the horses, clean out the stables and harrow the track. Seasonal workers, they earn the minimum wage and live in spartan dormitories on the backstretch, enduring a level of exploitation barely a step above the horses for whom they care. Even though only the horses are sweating, it’s still a sweatshop.

Early on in this episode, Renzo — the comic relief in a series that could use more — is following Turo and Jo around the paddock, offering them Foray Stables T-shirts to wear during Mon Gateau’s next race.

“Optionally!” he emphasizes, when they make it clear he’s being a pest.

Suddenly, a woman in the barn drops the phone and collapses in tears. It turns out her son was killed while walking to school in Puerto Vallarta. From Escalante’s reaction, it’s clear she’s an illegal immigrant.

“If she goes there, you think she come back in?” he says. “And you know what she gonna think? I was selfish with my grief."

Meanwhile, Joey Rathburn’s sad sack life is shaken up, literally, by an earthquake.

Continue reading »

Michael Mann to chronicle war photographers for new HBO series

Michael mann
Filmmaker Michael Mann and documentary director David Frankham are teaming up for a new documentary series for HBO that will follow young combat photographers into war zones in Mexico, Brazil, Uganda and Libya.

The series, which will be called "Witness," is currently in production. The first episode was shot in Juarez, Mexico.  No air date was announced.

"David Frankham and I share an admiration for combat photography that captures the universal -- and sometimes the indescribable -- in a single frame in the midst of chaos and danger," said Mann, an executive producer and director of HBO's "Luck."

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Photo: Michael Mann. Credit: Matt Sayles / Associated Press

Decoding 'Luck': Bromance at the track

Luck recap

I really, really wish I could bet on the races on “Luck.” I’d be cashing in every Sunday. So far, every time a character has run a horse at Santa Anita, it has won. Not even Zenyatta was this predictable.

In this episode, Turo Escalante is trying to pull off another betting coup, but this time he’s doing it with Ace’s horse. OK, officially it’s Gus’ horse, but Ace gets on the phone and demands to know why Pint of Plain is entered in the next afternoon’s 7th race, with young jockey Leon Micheaux as the rider.

Turo explains that he just entered the horse to do the racing office a favor, because they needed five horses to card the race. He’s “90% sure” he’ll scratch, or pull the horse out of the race before post time. This is bogus, because if the race is reduced to four horses, the track will have to cancel show and trifecta betting, doing no one any favors.

Ace and Gus show up at the stable, like the heavies they are, and accuse Turo of entering Pint of Plain “because you’re looking to win a bet and using this kid to win a race.” An apprentice jockey, they calculate, will double the odds on their horse, but reduce its chances of winning. They demand one of the top five jockeys at Santa Anita.

“I’m trying to find out if you’re a gambler or a trainer,” Ace tells Turo. “If he ain’t off, I’m taking that horse to another trainer.”

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