‘Luck’ Stunner: HBO Cancels Racetrack Series After Third Horse Death

Dustin Hoffman (right) starred, with Dennis Farina in HBO's "Luck" (Photo: HBO)

HBO is out of “Luck.”

The cable channel has cancelled “Luck,” its star-studded drama series about horse-racing, in the wake of three horse deaths occurring during the filming of the show. The most recent death happened just on Tuesday, when an injured horse had to be euthanized on-location at southern California’s Santa Anita racetrack, where “Luck” was filmed.

It’s an astonishing turn of events and probably a television first: A TV show halting production for good due to the deaths of animals used in the production. It could not have been an easy decision for HBO to make because the pay-cable channel had already renewed the star-studded series for a second season. However, after suspending production on Tuesday after the latest horse death, HBO announced Wednesday that it was now halting production for good.

The network issued this stunning statement Wednesday evening: “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’,” said the statement.

“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.

“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.”

The announcement contained a prepared statement from Mann and Milch: “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.” (Presumably, they weren’t talking about somehow reviving the series, but working together on future projects.)

Watch a video about “Luck,” HBO’s critically acclaimed, but now-cancelled horse-racing drama:
[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/tv/Luck/140913/2194237451/Luck%3A-About-Luck-%28HBO%29/embed 580 476]

“Luck” is the series from “Miami Vice” producer Michael Mann and “Deadwood” creator/producer David Milch that boasted a prestigious, all-star cast, most notably Dustin Hoffman in his first regular TV series role. He played an enigmatic gambler and gangster who was trying to purchase the racetrack and then persuade the California legislature to allow casino gambling in racetrack facilities.

Others in the cast included Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Michael Gambon, Richard Kind, Jill Hennessy and Jason Gedrick.

A decision of this type has huge repercussions for HBO, as well as the show’s cast and crew. This was an expensive, high-profile show for which the cable channel had high hopes — hopes that are now dashed due to the death of a horse.

It was actually the third horse to expire in the making of the show, with two previous horses succumbing to injuries they sustained in the filming of the show’s heart-pounding racing sequences. This third injury happened after this particular horse suddenly reared up on its hind legs, while just being walked by a handler. The horse reportedly fell backwards, fracturing its skull. It was then euthanized on the spot.

The accident brings a sudden end to a show HBO renewed for a second season back in January, after just one episode had aired. The initial season consisted of just nine episodes, and production had already begun on the Season Two episodes when the latest equine accident occurred. And cancellations are never easy for the people who work on shows, particularly an unprecedented cancellation such as this one, due to concerns over animal safety. Now, cast and crew members who were counting on the show continuing are left to scramble for new jobs.

And for viewers who have developed an affection for this show and its cast of oddball characters, only two episodes remain.

The finale is Sunday, March 25, at 9/8c on HBO.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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