Good Luck

Watching the pilot for David Milch’s upcoming HBO series “Luck,” I sort of felt the way the assortment of characters in the show are supposed to feel in their designated roles depicting life on the racetrack. I’m not sure where everything is heading and some of it isn’t pleasant to witness, but I can’t turn away from it. Bearing some similarities to gritty racing movies, such as “Boots Malone” and “The Killing,” Luck depicts the beauty, drama, and poetry of racing one minute and then quickly takes you into its underbelly, exposing all the warts and blemishes.

It even had the obligatory breakdown scene, but took it a step further by showing the compassion of the jockey, who sat with the ill-fated creature lying on the ground. If that wasn’t enough to grab the viewer by the gut, we also were given an extreme close-up shot of the horse’s eye (looking almost sad and bewildered) to give the scene a “Yearling” and “Old Yeller” effect. All that was missing was Bambi’s mother. But, despite providing fuel for animal activists, it did bring a chilling and horrific aspect of the sport to the screen with empathy and tenderness. Was it really needed? Probably not, but sometimes writers cannot refrain from using old formulas for sensationalistic value.

The characters were all there and all were real, from the sleazy gangsters to the degenarate horseplayers; and from the jockey and his bloodhound agent to the grizzled, hardboot trainer, as well as the shady trainer attempting to keep his live longshot under wraps in order to cash a bet. Of course, there is the young, unproven horse no one knows anything about who has greatness written all over him. To help move the plot along, his trainer (played by an effective Nick Nolte) talks extensively to him, telling him how great he’s going to be. This obviously was done so the jock’s agent skulking in the shedrow could overhear him and start smelling roses. This was the tree falling in the forest that needed someone to see it or else it didn’t happen.
It was great seeing Dustin Hoffman reliving his days as Dutch Schultz in “Billy Bathgate,” and while he played his character, Ace Bernstein, with a heavy hand in the brief time he was on screen, his presence added a great deal to the show, especially luring in the non-racing audience. Bernstein, recently released from prison, evokes images of the nefarious characters of the past who used a front to hide their ownership of racehorses. And of course, any show or movie moves up several notches with the addition of Dennis Farina, who plays Bernstein’s front. While Gary Stevens, who has a small role, was effective playing George Woolf in “Seabiscuit,” he has matured as an actor and is much more natural and polished. Add a pretty veterinarian and exercise rider and you’ve pretty much come up with a well-rounded roster to appeal to everyone’s tastes.

Although the pilot was more of a kaleidoscope of subplots and images, enhanced by some fantastic photography, it basically acted as a scorecard for future episodes, saving the viewers the trouble of having to sort through all the players once the series actually begins.

Like all of Milch’s shows, with its rough and edgy dialogue, Luck is at times disturbing, but you can’t take your eyes off it. Now that all the characters have been established, there is no telling how good Luck can and will be.


Leave a Comment:


Great review, Steve. I don't have HBO, so it's killing me to not have seen LUCK. I won't order HBO, so I'll have have to read everyone's comments about the show. I am hearing mixed reviews. Being that it's HBO, I think they can pretty much do whatever they want so foul language and graphic scenes like the horse breaking down are obvious. You wouldn't get that on regular television. Mostly I've read more negative things said about the horse breaking down and being euthanized more than any other scene. I've heard a lot of great things about Gary Stevens and his "Jim Beam" comment. Ugh!! He's my favorite jockey so I won't get to see him either, I don't care how small the part is! I wish they would offer it online. Geez, I'd pay a small fee to watch it. I can't wait to get to Santa Anita December 26 to see how they're promoting this show. My opinion is...folks, it's just a television show. I could see where it may bring a few new people to the King of Sports, but it's for entertainment purposes. It's not going to save horse racing. Just enjoy it for that if you like the show. If you don't like it, don't watch it. Based on some of the comments I've read all over the 'net, I think people are giving it more credit than it should be getting (good or bad). Please keep reviewing each episode, Steve. I will so look forward to reading them! Happy holidays to you and your family!

13 Dec 2011 1:10 PM

Siskel&Eberts have nothing on you, Steve. Very astute analysis. I've been waiting for this series for almost 2 years, since spring of 2010. I was at Santa Anita for Zenyatta's first race of the year & was invited into the winner's circle. As I walked in, I bumped shoulders with a man who apologized. I looked up(just a few inches)and it was Dustin Hoffman. He was there to present the trophy. His new series,Luck,was announced by Trevor Denman as he introduced the actor. Under any other circumstances, I would have been thrilled to meet Dustin but Zenyatta arrived just then and I had eyes only for the Queen herself. But now, I'm ready to watch the long awaiting Luck series. I know it'll be a rollercoaster of feelings, just like real life is on the backside.

13 Dec 2011 2:36 PM

Great review, Steve, but after watching about 25 mins. of it I changed the channel. For my taste, I'll take National Velvet (the movie), National Velvet (the early 60's TV series), Mister Ed, or, more recently, "Trainer", anytime. I've found that getting too close to the Sport is a turn off, i.e. much of its realities drive me away-particularly the injuries and breakdowns. The aforementioned shows dipict its positive aspects-very positive indeed-and should inspire us toward fullfilling that promise.  

13 Dec 2011 3:43 PM

Great review, Steve, and now I can't wait to see the series.  I just wish I had HBO...but I am sorely tempted for this series alone...I think I already missed the 2nd season of Treme, but at least I was able to buy season 1.  Maybe "Luck" will eventually be available as well.

And Congrats to Rapid Redux who did it again!  What a horse!  You just have to admire the grit and the heart of not only RR, but also his connections.

13 Dec 2011 3:56 PM

I just wish they had at least a cupple guys who are working the "figs" that are not, shall we say "dullards". The art of handicapping is as I know you recognize, one difficult task! I will be a big Hoffman fan.

13 Dec 2011 5:29 PM

Cool Beans Steve, I was reading expecting to read something at the end like we will have highlights of each show on this website.Stupid me its copyrighted and the fees to HBO or the producers would be unfeasable.They should shovel something discreet your way, great tout of the show for a website of probable viwers,that is if you have HBO.

13 Dec 2011 5:30 PM

What is so sensational about the breakdown? It happens. More than it should. It would be even more obvious if the writers had avoided the issue, in an effort not to "upset" the powers that be in racing. You know, the ones who don't seem to be able to do anything to fund the unwanted ex-racer, or are powerless to stop the medication violations that are not caught.

13 Dec 2011 10:16 PM

Outstanding review Steve.  Beautifully written as always.  But, I am not in agreement.  I was not crazy about the acting, found it hard to follow in the beginning.  I did think that Gary Stevens did an outstanding acting job and better than most of the actors.  Farina was also excellent.  Definitely the focus is on the under belly of the industry, and I feel that there are a lot of good people associated with racing.  They, the good people with integrity, were left out completely.  Hoping that future episodes will show some of the good side of the industry instead of the seedy side of racing.  My opinion that is probably the minority, is that it is not a great program even with Dustin Hoffman as the ex con.

13 Dec 2011 10:36 PM
The Deacon

With this kind of movie critique you're likely to get a call from Hollywood asking you to take over for Roger Ebert. Expert analysis I must say.

Still the best horse racing movie I ever saw was "Let It Ride" with Richard Dreyfuss. That movie is both hysterical and compelling.

Thanks for sharing, hope you have a very Merry Christmas Steve.

14 Dec 2011 1:42 AM
Zen's Auntie

Mr Haskin, this may have been the first blog of yours I have read without tearing up... Not a bad thing, but it does say something about how GOOD you are. Speaking of that, I just read the Cigar piece, Awsome! Thanks for being you.  

So back to Luck, which I have been waiting for for MONTHS. Hoffman is concinving and I have been waiting for Nolte to surface in a role like this - I'm stoked. They have brought in top talent for this, even the vet with her arm up the 2 million dollar horses rectum is Jill Henessy.

The guys in the pick 6 were my favorites the Jockey agent is a well crafted role too. What a hoot.

Im not sure it will be at all good for racing especially the Tatttered Flag kinda scenes but it was very realistic and I love gritty Drama - rough (and true to life) talk and of course no commercials.

Jan 2nd we get more, I already have the DVR set!

PS - Rapid Redux Rocks!!

14 Dec 2011 10:53 AM

I loved the pilot.  If you are not a horse player, a lot of it doesnt make sense and I spent an hour explaining track terminology to my wife but if they make it simple to most viewers, horse players are calling out its indifferneces.  I think it sets up for a great series.  it looks to get a lot darker, a side of gambling most of us pretend isnt there.  Cant wait for January 29th.  The euthanization was tough to watch.  

14 Dec 2011 1:32 PM
Dogs Up

Looks like most do not have HBO.

I do not.

Nice read.

14 Dec 2011 4:58 PM
Paula Higgins

I have HBO but breakdowns/euthanizations are something I do not want to watch, either real or imagined. With its cast, it should be a great show. Maybe at some point I can watch it. Just one point: every industry, every profession, every sport has its seamy side. What we do to correct it, is about our humanity. Rapid Redux deserves some kind of Eclipse recognition. Even though these have not been graded stakes races, he has done something very special. I hope horse racing acknowledges it.

14 Dec 2011 11:31 PM
Fran Loszynski

Once again Steve because of your great writing and account of things; I can already tell whether or not to watch it. Sounds like the show tells it like it is. Sometimes we get a little squemish and sad when things don't go right in horseracing but we need to remember alot of the great jockeys and racehorses circled a dirt circle around a barn with crowds leaving their fields to watch and cheer. There were no lights and hooplah, flowers or fancy hats, just good old-fashioned horseracing. It is from what our champions are made of today. So I guess I'll try and watch give a salute again to the greats, Willie Shoe, Pincay,  Stevens, and others, Ruffian, and Eight Belles. The best horses and jockeys are those that are not afraid of a good fight out there and luck just finds a way. The white rails are also welcoming Indian Charlie, so the wind can blow in his mane.

15 Dec 2011 12:29 PM

Dear Steve

You are superb writer with great info.  The series Luck you reviewed sounds like an accurate portrayal of the industry...and to be honest, the things you mentioned are the facts. There is also another fact people need to be made aware of. Thoroughbreds that cannot run etc are routinely shipped to Canada to slaughterehouses. That is the plain truth as well and extremely well documented. I know slaughterhoses are banned in USA but make no mistake about it, it is going on as US horses are now sent to Canada for slaughter.

I am in a partnership in the racing industry here in Canada....when I first became interested in owning a horse, we were apprised of claiming and how it worked etc.  No one at anytime told us the whole picture before we decided to sign up.....which should be mandatory on both sides of the border.

I will wait to see if HBO in Canada picks it up and I will watch it warts and all.  I still the love sport and emotional stories that are positive as to what a horse has meant to them, still gives me a chill.

I just wanted to give the most extreme cases and how they end up. and yes it is VERY CRUEL and inhumane.  Cannot speak for other owners, but we have retirement plans and money set aside to care for them post racing no matter what. Thank you Steve, interesting article as always.

PS Do you know what the status or where the first foal of Rags to Riches foal born in 2009?


15 Dec 2011 1:22 PM

I watched Luck and was excited about seeing it. I found the first 15 minutes or so rather slow but once it got going I really enjoyed it. However, it is on HBO which I don't normally get.  Too bad it is not being shown on a more accessable channel.

15 Dec 2011 2:03 PM

It was a great first episode. Only complaint is that the degenerates had to explain their bets (for the non players) and you can see the jockeys holding the horses during the races. Otherwise, another HBO hit series.

15 Dec 2011 3:54 PM
The Deacon

Paula:  I concur and totally agree. Injuries in all sports is hard to watch. Being an NFL fan I have watched numerous career ending injuires, like the one Jack Tatum put on Darryl Stingley back in the day. My dad was at Santa Anita when George Wolfe hit the rail and died near the finish line.  I was at Hollywood Park when a horse reared up, pinned Alvaro Pineda and thus he died of injuries. I watched in horror when my 2nd favorite horse, Ruffian broke down and had to be euthanized. It is truly a cruel sport. But with that said, it is also a breath taking moment of an imaginable rush. No need to mention all the great moments we have experienced, you have them as do I. I sippose we just must take the good with the bad..........

Merry Xmas to all

15 Dec 2011 7:44 PM
200 lb. Jockey

Hello Steve,

           This is a copy of my first post on HBO...

I was really excited about this show far in advance, maybe to a fault.I was entertained and thought the racing action was amazing, the camera work spectacular. BUT,  David Milch is a big player in the horse game, and as a part owner myself, I took exception to the use of a fatal breakdown scene in the pilot. I can't believe he thought it was a good idea to introduce that reality to viewer's so early. I'm a horse guy, and that still kind of ripped my guts out. It seemed like TV suicide to me. I was at the 2008 Derby and it was ugly. I saw 75,000 women crying as I went to cash my winning ticket. That was not a good derby.  I wondered if horse racing would ever recover. I thought the show focused too much on the dirty side and really missed out on the passion and love in the game. I love this sport, but it's hard to sell. So far, this show doesn't help. A fatal breakdown in the pilot...ugh.

I still pretty much stand by that opinion. I will certainly watch the show, but I am a little irked by it as well. I hope to see more than the dark side of our sport, because it is also filled with a lot of love and beauty. The jury is still out. A big shout out to my boy "Solicitation" in his first race at Gulfstream tomorrow. Go baby!

16 Dec 2011 1:58 AM

Excellent review Steve, the most accurate i have read so far. I wanted to love the show and signed up for HBO just to see it but felt very disappointed. Like yourself I found Gary Stevens to be a much improved actor with a great deal of presence on the screen . Perhaps though the majority of the actors were very hard to understand. Especially the spanish trainor.. His speech was garbled and unmoving. The breakdown scene was too much for me, had to walk out of the room . But I did come back in , just like you said and continued to watch the show. Ultimately left me feeling empty as the show highlights the underbelly of the sport. I hope the rest of series does more than show the sad side of the racing industry. There is so much more to tell that is inspiring and the majority of the newcomers to the sport will have no knowledge of the true essence of the world of horseracing and why it is good for the soul. As for the viewers my sons who are avid racing fans and handicappers LOVED the show. That could be indicative of the young newcomers to the sport and what they want to see.

16 Dec 2011 4:29 AM

Like several others, I was disappointed.  I signed up for HBO especially for this show. I could not understand half of the dialog, the whole production felt empty and devoid of any redemptive qualities you hope to see in expose type films. I felt kind of cheated, that the producers and Milch thought so little of the sport and the audience that they chose to focus entirely on the "underbelly".  Formulaic..I mean, how much imagination does it take to pick out the lowlifes and then wrap a series around them?  With all the great talent, the resources directed toward this production, it seems to me they could have found some way to introduce some humanity, some balance. The whole thing felt like a bucket of lead!  Too heavy, and almost sarcastic, as if the producers are giving the finger to the sport! Sensationalism at its worst, with the breakdown scene.  I love Gary Stevens, and he did a great job, I have to say.  But, the tempo was like slogging through molasses in December! Except for a couple of horrendous scenes which jolted me out of my stupor I had fallen into, I found the whole thing, for lack of a better word, disappointing and I wanted to say to Mr. Milch:  Shame on you! I'm not planning to keep my HBO subscription for this, well, crap!!!  As for the production quality everyone always raves about HBO productions, I thought it stunk! The racing sequences were....slow? They took forever!  And, yes, I do feel protective of a sport that is struggling, and I hate it that people who know nothing about the sport will watch this and think this represents the whole industry. JMHO!! LOL!

16 Dec 2011 11:28 AM

I'd love to see the movie, even with the negative aspects of the sport; the good outweighs the bad in reality and it sounds as if it does in the movie too. However, Canada is so besotted with hockey and football they never show much of anything to do with racing so I regrettably may never get to see it. Thanks for the great review though.

16 Dec 2011 5:03 PM

I haven't seen "Luck" yet but i'm going to try and download the pilot today. The most realistic racing movie I have seen was "Casey's Shadow" with Walter Mathaeu.  The movie is nearly 30 years old but QH racing is still very much the same.  Great movie btw.

20 Dec 2011 10:26 AM
Linda in Texas

Hi Steve - thanks for this wonderful review.

And along the lines of movies, I am now seeing the ads for Spielberg's movie WARHORSE which is being released on Christmas Day. I don't go to movies hardly ever, but i may find time to go to this one.

Wishing everyone a Very Merry Christmas and Steve, go ahead and have an extra serving of Plum Pudding! Blessings to your family and loved ones also. Be safe


20 Dec 2011 11:37 AM
Linda in Texas

Hi - Steve, been checking every day in anticipation of your next blockbuster knock'em smart article.

Now it is a few days past the new year. So i will send Happy and Healthy New Year Wishes your direction.

May everything go your way and all your 'predictions' arrive first and in tact at the wire!

Thank you Steve,and you Sir Haskin

are simply the best.


05 Jan 2012 3:42 PM
Paul Horton

I would like to comment on the announcement for the Elipse Award Horse of the Year. It seems we have fallen into a love afair with the fillies and Havre De Grace will win the award. However, its my understanding the award is for the best horse of the year and Havre De Grace just doesn't do it for me. If you matched her at any distance with Game On Dude she would lose and in her only race against him she did just that. Where is the justice in making her horse of the year.

08 Jan 2012 9:48 AM
Linda in Texas

Steve, it is Sunday, January 8, 2012.

I am just checking to see if you have resurfaced with another bombastic scintillating futuristic positive outlook on what the new year 2012 has in store for all of us regarding the great 4 legged creatures of the race tracks.

I am looking forward to your thoughts on just exactly which one you think is especially promising.

Thank you Steve

08 Jan 2012 12:48 PM

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