Filming of HBO's Luck at Racetrack

‘Luck’ bad for horses as two die in making of HBO series

Filming of HBO's Luck at Racetrack
Due to a lack of safety precautions for its horse actors, two reportedly died during the filming of HBO series Luck.

The HBO television series “Luck”, which focuses on gambling and other goings on in and around American horse racing, does not shy away from the breakdown and deaths of racehorses that in real life occurs all too often. However, in the making of this series, fact and fiction have become tragically mixed. Due to lack of safety precautions for its horse actors, two reportedly died in connection with the filming of two episodes of “Luck.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that an investigation is underway:

HBO’s “Luck,” which examines the world of thoroughbred racing and betting, has been investigated due to charges of mistreatment of horses.

The New York Observer reported that the show came under scrutiny after reports that two horses broke their legs during production and had to be euthanized. The pilot of the series, which premiered last month, contains a scene in which a horse breaks its leg during a race and has to be put to sleep.

The network told the Observer that the horse filmed in that race in the pilot was not actually harmed, but another horse in that episode was euthanized after its leg fractured. The other horse death occured during the filming of the seventh episode.

According to source, the American Humane Association, who hands out the “No animals were harmed . . . ” tag in filmed entertainments, did not make this claim for the two episodes of “Luck” where a horse was killed, opting instead to say that “American Humane Association monitored the animal action.”

To our view, that statement carries all sorts of implications, one being, if the AHA were on the scene watching, nothing bad must have happened. Perhaps the AHA should create a new tagline to make it perfectly clear to viewers what happened to the animals used. In this case, how about “A horse was killed in the making of this episode.”

Read full report at >>

24 thoughts on “‘Luck’ bad for horses as two die in making of HBO series”

  1. Right Carol, there are no slaughter trucks close to Santa Anita, because the slaughter of horses in this country has been illegal, tho Obama has allowed horse slaughter plants to re open as of Thanksgiving day. There are however rendering plants. And they do do the pick ups that don’t go to Davis for necropsy.
    Luck is a terrible show for horse racing. Milch should know better. Terrible story lines. The character based on Julio is a joke. If I were Julio, I’d be pissed.
    It’s just a ***t show from start to finish.


    1. Of course there are rendering plants! WHERE ELSE are dead animals supposed to go?

      It is illegal to slaughter horses in California (NOT FEDERAL but state law). So even if slaughter houses wanted to open, they could not.

      David Ortiz, who plays the Julio based character was in the winner’s circle with Julio and the owners last week when Julio’s horse won the stakes race. All the pony riders wore “Luck” tee shirts. IT IS FICTION!


      1. And remember that the Federal law did not restrict horse slaughter, it simply restricted Federal inspectors from inspecting plantw which slaughter horses for human consumption. The state of California forbids horse slaughter.


  2. All true Carol, accidents happen so that is why , they need to be predetermined and and allowances need to be adhered to and need to need to made ………….. I live near Thistledown Race Track and visit the Barns frequently, and found horses there are given good care on the whole…….. Always some need improvement , and there is always lurking possibility of that Horse slaughter truck, most race tracks are adopting in their contracts with owners that no horse leaves there track in the back of a slaughter truck and have huge penalties ………….Kill buyers need to be seriously addressed …………………………


    1. I am not familiar with conditions on the east coast, but I can tell you at the Southern California tracks there ARE no horse slaughter trucks on the race track. Horses are checked out of the track with the destination entered in the departure slip.

      There are no slaughter houses within 1500 miles.


      1. awesome Carol the east coast needs to follow suit……. I know for sure Mountaineer Race Track complies to no Slaughter Thanks to Rosemary Williams. the Track manager……


  3. Arlene, you are most welcome!

    The character Escalante is based on the real life champion trainer, Julio Canani who trains at Santa Anita. The scenes filmed at “Escalante’s barn” are actually Julio’s barn, including even the goat :-)

    Producer David Milch has horses in training with Julio.


    1. Dear Carol, i have not yet seen the series yet , but it will be a sure bet I will……(hehe) I am so glad that you brought it to light what happened with the two horses…… It was a tragedy , and am hoping that steps will be taken so it doesnt happen , there are things that cant be helped but learned from…………………. Its again all about the horses……………………….


      1. Racing gets a bad name from folks who think the horses are mistreated.

        For the most part, they are pampered and fussed over. They are given the best feed money can buy, They work on the best surface available which is groomed more often daily than most rings see in a month. The average horse owner “might” notice a new bump on a leg and put on some liniment. If the race horse gets a tiny scratch, the vet is there immediately.

        The race track pays for runners to be shipped from track to track in $100,000 air ride vans, not cramped two horse slant load trailers pulled by an SUV like lots of pleasure horses. They fly in and out of LAX EVERY DAY. There is one airline which caters strictly to horses.

        Accidents happen, just as they do with barrel racers, jumpers and trail riders. Horses take a bad step or spook and get hurt. So do all professional athletes.


        1. Yep.. this is the way that horses that run in the Derby and Breeder’s Cup are treated. But not all race horses are treated this way.. And the not at all tracks… and even some are racing in illegal locations per new LA paper report. Besides.. this is a special situation. This filming is not being accomplished under the rules and regulations that govern real races.. Please don’t be too defensive.


          1. Paula, I can only address my personal experiences on the Southern California race tracks. Cheap claimers are treated with the same excellent care given fancy stakes horses. I am not defensive, but tired of the false statements made about the racing community.

            Yes, there are and have always been “river bottom” races held where ever two horses could be put together and folks would come to bet. These races cannot be compared to regulated racing any more than backyard “fight clubs” can be compared to Ultimate Fighting Championships.

            In any case EVERY horse on EVERY southern California race track, including lead ponies work on the same excellent footing and under the auspices of the California Racing Board.


          2. All racehorses suffer to some degree. It is not a rosy life, from foaling to retirement (if they live that long). But as long as they are money spinners they are treated as well as the industry is capable of. I am sad to say it, but we see and hear reports on a constant basis. And it is rife everywhere. To say that racehorses from California are not slaughtered is inaccurate. Horse slaughter is a highly predatory business and the killer buyers are skilled at getting their hands on horses for that purpose, even in a state as highly regulated against it as California. Of course, Quarter Horses suffer the most. They make up the bulk of the horses slaughtered according to available data.


  4. Dear Carol , Thank you for responding so quickly with your first hand information, it is good to be able to view this tragedy with the details before us……. I am sure HBO will be taking a much wanted detaied care of the horses in this series…………….Its all about the horses who are considered to be athletes and should be given the precautions that any athlete is given before they Race, during and after….. so well deserved…… I was so very happy to hear HBO was doing a series on Horse racing, bringing attention to the magnificent horses of the sport, horse Racing if it is to survive must acknowledge that the horse needs to be treated with respect and with good care just as any athlete ……… Thank You again Carol…………………………….


    1. Thank you Linda. How about this quote? “After the second accident, production was suspended while the production worked with AHA and racing industry experts to adopt additional protocols specifically for horse racing sequences. The protocols included but were not limited to the hiring of an additional veterinarian and radiography of the legs of all horses being used by the production. HBO fully adopted all of AHA’s rigorous safety guidelines before production resumed.” Breakdowns are common in horse racing but at least they have laid out in clear legal terms what they doing in case another occurs.


      1. One other note regarding medications: these horses are stabled at Santa Anita. The entire stable area is regulated by the California Horse Racing Board.

        Visitors need to obtain a visitor’s pass by having a licensed individual sign them in. In order to get a license, one must fill out an application, which includes questions on arrest records. Fingerprints are taken and entered into the FBI’s data base. Interviews are held with the track stewards and other officials. Folks from off the street can’t just walk in.

        The track also regulates medications. ONLY veterinarians can give injections. The track investigators have the right to go through tack rooms and horse vans. If illegal medication or syringes are found, that individual comes under penalty.


  5. I know details regarding the filming of “LUCK” personally as many of my friends are involved.

    EVERY precaution is taken. In the pilot, a horse is shown breaking down and the scene appears to be graphic. This is done through digital manipulation. That horse is still at Santa Anita and still being used in filming. THAT HORSE WAS NOT INJURED.

    The horse which was injured and euthanized belonged to my neighbor. This was a former race horse, owned by a race horse trainer. The horse had come out of training only 2 weeks prior to the accident NOT due to injury, but because he was TOO SLOW and the trainer took him home to his own back yard to be his personal riding horse. The accident occured when they were filming a “breaking out of the gate” scene. The horse broke sideways into the gate instead of straight, despite professional starters and professional riders handling all the animals.

    The vet is standing right there during all scenes filmed involving horses and he was there in seconds as the rider immediately pulled the horse up.

    There is a horse ambulance and hospital on the grounds at Santa Anita. After examination and x ray, it was determined that the horse had broken his shoulder. The owner made the decision to put him down.

    The scenes are filmed on the perfectly groomed racing surface. Professionals handle the animals during every minute. Vets oversee every phase. These horses are kept in training at Santa Anita so they stay fit for filming.


  6. I suspect that they are using X-race horses. Trainers would not allow their “potential money makers” to be at risk. Many TBs are retired from racing with injuries that keep them from ever racing again. But unscrupulous owners leased or sold them to the production company or the stock company responsible for supplying horses and wranglers. They may or may not have even known about the previous injuries. I believe that I have read studies that show that horses who are running with stress injuries that were not healed correctly or completely or at much greater risk of dying on the track.
    Either way, the situation deserves investigation. Hopefully this “starring performance” is not just a momentary detour on the road to the Slaughter House.
    Thanks again to the media for bringing it to the attention of the public.. Let’s get some answers.


    1. There is a comment from Carol on how one of the horses was injured and died. I find her other ideas on how well racehorses are treated an interesting read. That racehorses all were cared for the way she describes.


  7. Agree Arlene. We are very grateful that this is being investigated.

    In the meantime, it appears that someone at least has consulted a veterinarian for advice and are moving forward with improved conditions for the horses used. I believe they have been renewed for a second season.

    We are also grateful to the series for pulling no punches, and showing that part of the tragic side of racing are the breakdown and deaths of horses. How tragic that the producers and director did not exercise caution so that no deaths and injuries occurred during filming.

    Where did the horses come from?

    It seems to me if the horses were trained for film and television and indeed “horse actors” (putting a horse in front of a camera does not instantly make him an actor), surely there would have been a handler(s) on set. If the horses were not trained for it — perhaps off the track Thoroughbreds — they should have had an expert there to handle them. These are issues that the AHA should have sorted out before production began. Perhaps they did or were misled.

    I would also like to know what happens to the horses afterwards.


    1. Two great questions??????/ not all are as Lucky as Hidalgo , after filming movie of the same Name, Viggo Mortensen realized he had to have Hildalgo and bought him!!!!


  8. Geeze that was really nice of them , to not post no animals were harmed during filming, Like anyone would even notice it wasnt there???>?>The Question here is was every precaution used to make sure no animals were harmed , details here are very sketchy , how can one form an opinion, we all realize that stuff happens it is the circumstances here that matter!!!!! I realize accidents happen, but was every precaution used thats what matters here??????? Every athlete when performing needs to have any precaution available in place when they do so, horses are athletes also would like to know more details here…………………………..


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