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HBO Cancels ‘Luck’

Written by PETA | March 14, 2012


Horses and people who care about them can rest a little easier tonight. HBO has announced that it is canceling Luck and ceasing all production on the series!

Even before filming on Luck started, PETA contacted David Milch, Michael Mann, and others associated with the production to suggest ways to protect horses, including the use of stock racing footage instead of using live animals. After the first two horses died—and the producers began stonewalling—PETA revealed the deaths publicly and obtained information from whistleblowers as well as necropsy reports from the racing board, which led to the disclosure that older, arthritic horses had been used in dangerous (and deadly) racing sequences and that the horses appeared not to have been provided with adequate protection. Beyond keeping the horses’ plight in the public eye, PETA has also pressed law enforcement to investigate the deaths of the horses used on the set and to bring charges as appropriate.

A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the whistleblowers who refused to let these horses’ deaths go unnoticed. If Milch, Mann, and HBO ever decide to start the series up again, PETA will again be calling on them to use stock footage, rather than putting horses’ lives at risk.

Just one day after PETA sent a complaint to Los Angeles law enforcement urging the agency to investigate the deaths of two horses during the filming of the first season of HBO’s Luck, we have learned that another horse has died on the set. Insiders at Santa Anita Race Track, where the racing scenes are filmed, called us early Tuesday and tipped us off. Now HBO has confirmed it.

But don’t expect HBO or executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann to come clean about who the horse was and what condition he was in. They refused to tell us anything about the first two horses, so with the help of caring whistleblowers, we unearthed the disturbing evidence ourselves: One horse was drugged, and the other was arthritic and hadn’t raced in years. Neither one should have been anywhere near a racetrack.

Photo: tasweertaker | cc by 2.0

Drugs and Unfit Horses

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.

Both horses were “raced” twice in one day—something even fit thoroughbreds would never be subjected to. Healthy racehorses need at least a week to recover from the stress of competition. Indeed, they aren’t even exercised twice in one day. Both horses on the set of Luck broke down after the second run. Their leg fractures were so violent that their bones shattered under the pressure. We think—and we hope law enforcement agrees—that the way in which the horses were treated by the production company, the trainer, and the veterinarian warrants a swift and thorough investigation before yet another horse dies.

Human affection for horses unfortunately makes them popular subjects for the film industry. Horses may grab our attention, but these animals are not willing participants in the entertainment industry.

Commenting is closed.
  • Patch says:

    oh gee, you mean you’ll have to miss a show that kills horses.
    Get a life

  • Patch says:

    I never watched this show but in general I detest any program that uses animals to depict cruelty, hardship and any sort of killing – yes…including hunting. I’m happy to hear that this show was cancelled. Disappointed in any actor that was involved in this show who turned a blind eye to animal abuse.

  • Lynne says:

    re: Robyn april 2/12 “racehorses get to relax, enjoy life…” Racehorses spend most of there racing lives in a small cage (stall) and are deprived of all natural behaviours that are natural to them, such as grazing, socializing with other horses, and self directed movement. Imagine if someone kept their dog in a cage just big enough for it to turn around for most of its life and let it out once a day for 5 to 10 minutes a day for exercise? Everyone would think that is cruel, but it is done to horses all the time.

  • Pat Stonaker says:

    I am glad they cancelled and animals won’t get hurt.That is uncalled for.

  • Maxxine Onorato says:

    I love all animals & any animal sufferings should be made a crime and puished for same, Maxine Onorato

  • Adriane says:

    Robyn that’s great but these horses have not raced for YEARS! Somehow you missed that. Anyway abuse is abuse. “As stated, one horse had not raced in 4 yrs.” anyway enuf said. Torturing and killing animals is wrong.

  • Valere says:

    a commenter pointed out that the remaining horses will be put down since of no use now and retirement fund is low. HBO with your big dollars how about making good with these horses that deserve a retirement? You got yourself wrapped up in this issue by making a series about it. Now your name will be associated with the horses’ death. Even one more reason to keep animals out of any entertainment. I avoided the move ‘WAR HORSE’ and of course, last years ‘Water for Elephants’ and the flop ‘Zookeeper’. Now will be leery of any animals used in any show. HBO has had, to their credit, a few documentaries over the years that were animal friendly. That’s perturbing to find out they are a subject of bad publicity regarding treatment of animals.

  • Valerie says:

    Thank you for revealing this cruelty and the whistleblowers who helped with this. I watched a few minutes and lost interest even though had a good cast – I am an avid HBO fan. You’d a thought animals would be safe with HBO filming – apparently not so. I would be a very livid fan had the show not been axed. Now am wondering why. How could they have let these animals suffer and die??? They work actors hard, but old non racing horses? This is awful they were responsible for the deaths of some horses. I thought the death of an animal used for entertainment purposes alone was against humane practice in filming. Thank you for revealing this and HBO SHAME ON YOU!

  • Remmy says:

    Thanks, PETA for making us, who care, aware of such horrible abuse to the most helpless. It breaks my heart. I think my comments express my opinions. I believe more and more people are beginning to “wake up” to this inhumaneness and are ot tolerating it anymore. We are not as dumb as they would liike to believe. These sociopaths belong in the past Roman era of killing, torture for sport!

  • Remmy says:

    When are these dumbed-downed, sociopathic, media controlled, monsters, going to figure out that they are part of the old, corrupted,no sense of conscience, compassion,empathy,greedy, mentality. Many of us are on a higher plane, and we will no longer watch, pay for or in anyway support your Cro-Magnum ways of use & abuse of our helpless animals and wildlife for your personl greed.If you actually have an audience that supports your abusive methods, then shame on them, also.  


    How selfish of David Milch and Michael Mann for abusing the horses until they were killed; because giving the horses high doses of medication so that they can perform it should be criminal. I am sick and tired of these morons taking advantage of horses, (and other animals) for the selfish purpose of making money at their cost of the horses’ lives. Look what other people are getting away with as well, horses are now being slaughtered for food consumption since horses are no longer productive for their owners. These people make me sick and they are so disgustingly sadistic, that I wish lightining would strike every sadistic person abusing animals. Enough is Enough! And, we need to pressure our government to stop these people from causing any more torture and abuse to animals once and for all!!!

  • Robyn says:

    i am a veterinary student, and a horse trainer. HORSES ARE ABOSULTELY EXERCISED TWICE on many days at racetracks, so that was an outright LIE…. just wanted to let anyone know that who read this article. their “exercise” is about 5-10 minutes of work, once or twice a day. then they get to relax, enjoy life, good food, nice baths and grooming, around people who care about keeping them at peak performance.

  • audrey says:

    I think that we should see this as a small victory for awareness. If the public knows about the treatment of horses in production, they may be more apt to reconsider supporting other productions and racing. This is definitely an opportunity to educate people who wouldn’t otherwise know about the treatment of these beautiful creatures.

  • Christine says:

    @Barrett: There ARE alternative careers for TBs that do not fulfill their owner’s expectations in racing. Some are recruited for dressage, show jumping, or eventing. There are also many equine rescue operations in the US, making this breed available to good homes with folks who are either interested in retraining them for show or pleasure. This is not to deny that there is a serious problem in the racing industry with the mistreatment of horses (and even show jumping/eventing are under scrutiny as well), but there are people working to make a difference!

  • jacksonmerrilyn says:

    Thank you,Peta I love horses,and all animals. Merrilyn Jackson

  • alexes says:

    when i saw that such a show was being made, my heart sank. to glorify the treatment of those animals – well, it is just horrific. i hate that three horses died. i wish the show had been cancelled before their loss. but i am so glad this show has been trashed. it would have created a huge support for race tracks, by glamourizing what goes on there. thanks to all involved.

  • GetReal says:

    Let’s get real about this SMALL VICTORY for horses. A potential handful of horses that would have been used for Luck and possibly died have been saved but what about the race tracks and the triple crown races? That’s only for the USA. The system or guidelines need to be fixed instead of just cancelling a show or continuing races for decades. How about we fix the problem instead of just sweeping it under the carpet whenever it reappears? Has anyone even acknowledged that the 3rd horse died in a freak accident and NOT DUE TO THE CARE or WORK CONDITIONS he was exposed to? He reared and feel back and cracked his skull. Sad but you can’t blame that on Luck.

  • Barrett says:

    PETA had little if anything to do with Luck’s cancellation. Viewership was weak, and in decline since the premiere while production costs were out of control. A quality series no doubt, but alienating in its realism and race jargon; only race fans know what “exacta wheels” and “claimers” are, or what “crossing” is. With that said, 3 of the 45 horses used in production perished during the two years of filming, which is not surprising since so many die every day at tracks and farms around the world. What is more upsetting than the cancellation of Luck is that most of the remaining 42 horses will be slaughtered. TB is not a tough breed, so careers after racing are scarce. The only ones who have a chance are those with broodmare value. The retirement funds can only do so much.

  • Bruce Ward says:

    Bela and Kathryn, your emotional logic suggests that saving three horses is preferable to a strategy that would save thousands. Your passion is well centered but as a policy outcome, more TBs will suffer as a result of the cancellation.

  • Bella says:

    Dear mr ward…..exposing animal cruelty by abusing animals in order to educate is a very strange thought process indeed.

  • Ashton says:

    While I am glad of PETA’s efforts to prevent animal abuse, I am saddened by the cancellation of HBO’s Luck. I never watched it because I don’t have HBO, but I heard a lot of good things about it.

  • JoeSomebody says:

    What is the problem with “Luck”? How did they mistreat horses?? Please, educate me. If anything, this show made me appreciate horses one thousand percent more than I did before seeing the show. These horses are beautiful to look at! Horses LOVE TO RACE! FACT! On “Luck” the horses used were no more than 5yrs old! They were only allowed to run about a quarter of the track during filming and then they rested them for 25 minutes before they were allowed to run again. These horses received the best possible care in the world. The production team followed strict protocol when caring for them! So, in a year or so of production of “Luck” 3 horses had fatal accidents. THERE HAVE BEEN 17 FATAL ACCIDENTS AT AQUEDUCT SINCE NOVEMBER 2011!!! On “Luck” they had 2500 horse runs with about 45 horses being used. 3 FREAK accidents and OH NO! THIS WILL NOT STAND!!! Give me a break!

  • Kathryn Terhune Cotton says:

    Bruce Ward, you comment is a non Sequitur . The show could have easily exposed the underbelly of horse racing using stock footage. The use of live horses on the set (let alone horses that should never have been run in any situation) was about as necessary as staging a real murder on CSI or other crime drama.

  • Gina P says:

    I have been a TB owner/trainer for years and I know the inner secrets of the racing industry and it us not all good. I have not actively participated in the industry for two years! Recently, I have been submitting comments on a very popular and well-respected pro-racing website/blog called “Ray Paulicks Report.” I have exposed and commented on things that only an “insider” to the business would know. I received a note from Ray Paulicks website that they will be blocking and not posting any comments from me – so much for free speech! This also tells us that they don’t want things exposed. I invite anybody reading this to PLEASE go to Ray Paulicks Report and post comments – strength in numbers right? Read the comment from GPowell they keep hiding it, and only allow pro-industry comments. They can’t prohibit all our comments can they? Please TWEET Ray Paulick with your comments.

  • HorseFreak013 says:

    Im glad the show was canceled, those horses shouldn’t of even been near the track let alone run on it. Thank you so much PETA, to bad no one was there to stop it all before the horses were injured 🙁 I think horse racing needs more awareness, it’s a dangerous sport, and the public should be educated on how some of the horses are treated. It’s sad to think that some of the owners don’t care for the horses, but are only in it for the money 🙁

  • Emily says:

    If PETA truly cared about horses and the race industry they would not focus their time and energy on a TV show and spend more time on things that make sense. I have trained and worked with many OTTB’s (off the track thoroughbreds) the biggest problem with the race industry is how young they race the horses. The horses would not be so crippled and prone to injury if the race industry would just raise the age limit on the age you can race these thoroughbreds. Taking away the race industry is impossible, it’s a multi million dollar industry for states alone. So instead of trying to do the impossible why don’t we help the horses in any way possible and raise the age limit and make it so the horses have more time to grow and give them a chance to mature. We let our children mature before they can play sports, we should do the same with horses.

  • acf says:

    @smokingator: not sure if you are just trolling or what, but that show SHOULD have been cancelled, and that “sport” SHOULD die. the horses get run to death. what kind of “sport” is that?

  • ashley says:

    Thank you PETA for putting an end to this show. It really brings awareness of the entertainment industry and their use of animals. Thank You

  • Sara says:

    This show definitely needed to be cancelled! Thanks PETA!

  • smokingator says:

    Thanks for getting my favorite show canceled. The show had a lot of opportunity to bring a lot more fans to a troubled sport.

  • Bruce Ward says:

    As a city born and raised kid, Luck offered a view of the racing industry I would never see. While I support PETA’s mission and efforts to stop animal cruelty, I question whether cancelling this show amounts to a strategic measure toward your objectives. The show put the industry and the animals in front of the american public. Indeed, a segment of the public with means to afford a premium channel like HBO and likely a more educated demographic. So while PETA claims victory over the show’s cancellation, the industry and its faults will slip back behind closed doors where abuses will continue with less public concern to generate oversight. For the record, Santa Anita Racetrack owners were trying to cut short the show’s contract because Luck was “too honest” in exposing the industry’s underbelly. The three horses that died, while tragic, are like our war heroes. Their sacrifice was part of what brought about an awareness of the sport/industry that would cost millions in advertising. Nick Nolte’s character delivers passionate love for the offspring of a racehorse that suffered in the hands of irresponsible heirs of a stable is epic. I’ll remain a supporter of PETA and humane conditions for animals but I will be less informed and thus measurably detached from being mobilized as will millions of other Americans as a result of Luck’s demise.

  • Peter Cakvet says:

    I support PETA’s work generally but you lost me with this HBO witch-hunt. This cheap publicity stunt is the kind that Joe McCarthy used to persecute Hollywood because it got him publicity. PETA would have been much better served by working with HBO and convincing them to expose the abuses that go on in the racing world. You missed a golden opportunity and whoever thought it was a good idea to hound HBO understands nothing about cause marketing. McCarthy scored cheap points with his hounding of Hollywood and you fell in the same trap. You need people who are good at public relations because you’re coming across as as petty bullies and hurting your own cause due to incompetence. Hollywood is a great vehicle to promote the cause of animal exploitation and you blew this opportunity. I still support your cause but you need to get a grip on how to use the media and Hollywood who are your natural allies. I write a blog that is read in 41 countries and I am not very inclined to promote PETA after this deplorable tactic that has no strategic value. Rule number one in this line of work is to know the difference between tactics and strategy. You have a lot to learn in this regard.

  • kellbell says:

    My mom and I love horses…we stopped watching horse racing due to so many horses dieing on the track. About a year ago my mom and I were at Santa Anita and one race we decided to go watch it down at the finishing line..big mistake!… a horse went down… right infront of us… It tramatized us. It was the worse thing i have ever seen! I was crying so hard and could not believe what I just saw. Since then I have relized the cruelity of these poor horses. They dont have a choice. They sould also outlaw whipping. I hope the horse racing industry does something to improve the numbers of horses that go down. Like drugs, inbreeding..track conditions and pushing the horses beyond there indurance. I agree the greed of money has out weighed the saftey of these horses. They need to do more research.. I dont believe other countries have this many deaths on track.. maybe they do and I just dont know about it. I hate how they try to sweep it under the rug on TV. The only sport that has a ambulance speeding behind the race with a truck with a tarp in the back. I am so sad..I love to watch horses.. I guess I will watch horses in a parade. Thank you PETA for keeping on this subject and blowing the whistle on HBOs Luck. The sould of listed and used stock footage.

  • Cynthia L. says:

    Most people make me SICK!!!! Not the TRUE ANIMAL GUARDIANS you understand, but the stupid people who think that when a horse dies, IT”S UNFORTUNATE!!!! OMG, are you kidding me???!!!! I would not go to ANY ANIMAL RACES!!! You can def. tell from the comments here who are the intelligent ones!! ONLY THE TRUE ANIMAL PROTECTORS who are against cruelty of any kind to animals. GO PETA, HSUS and ALL the other animal protection groups who want only the best for animals. If you think this show was the best for the horses, who are as SICK, money hungry and uncaring as the producers of this show was!! How MANY horses would have had to die before the producers of this vile show realized that they needed to change the show. BTW< I am an older adult in college with on going to law school to practice ANIMAL LAW!!! I will always be an ANIMAL PROTECTOR and I am not ashamed to say it!! I make NO apologies for my feelings!!

  • Patricia says:

    Along with cancelling this sow,people may think about boycotting horse races. It’s so hard on the horses, their legs,etc. What a shame that people have lost their values, and replaced the worship of GOD with the worship of money.

  • Howard says:

    Unbelievable! 30,000 thoroughbreds born each year; over 10,000 slaughtered for food annually; more than 2 per day die in race track accidents . . . And you people are clamoring over the treatment of retired race horses that would otherwise be sent to slaughter??? I have never understood how the “animals are people” groups reconcile the everyday killing of animals for convenience and sustenance with targeting a production like LUCK which experienced an accident at a race track, one that happens on a weekly basis?

  • aisling says:

    thank you PETA for stopping this horrible behavior from luck

  • Guest says:

    Im GLAD that it’snow cancelled.

  • miryam says:

    Thank you once again PETA.

  • Barbara says:

    The first scene depicting the injured horse being “put down” was disturbingly realistic. I thought I could see the life go out of that beautiful animal’s eyes. “Luck” is very entertaining and I am learning about the sport, but it’s not worth it if it means horses are suffering and dying for my entertainment. I can’t bear to watch a horse break down like that. It’s barbaric!