US horse racing series 'Luck' has been axed by HBO chiefs after a third thoroughbred died during the making of the drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte.
'Luck', about the seedier side of racing, will show the final two episodes of its first season now in progress, HBO said. But the series will not return for the second season that began production last month.
“While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future,” the channel said. “Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision.”
The move was made with David Milch, the show’s creator, and Michael Mann, his fellow executive producer on the drama that brought Hollywood star Hoffman to series TV. It was a high-profile project for the premium channel that stakes its reputation on such fare.
HBO said it was “immensely proud” of the series and those involved in it, and the producers said in a joint statement that they “loved this series, loved the cast, crew and writers”.
Retired jockey Gary Stevens, who co-stars in Luck and was in the racehorse film 'Seabiscuit', tweeted his support to the HBO series, saying: “So bummed. Peace out to all my family in #luck.”
The American Humane Association, which oversees animal welfare on Hollywood productions, said that in light of the three deaths “this is arguably the best decision HBO could have made”.
The group said it would work with HBO to ensure that horses used on 'Luck' were “retired properly”.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which had been sharply critical of the production, welcomed the move and offered advice to HBO and the producers if they decided to resume it.
“Peta will be calling on them, as we have done from the start, to use stock racing footage instead of endangering horses for entertainment purposes,” the group said.
On Tuesday a horse was injured and put to sleep at Santa Anita Park racetrack, and HBO agreed to suspend filming with the animals after the American Humane Association issued an immediate demand “that all production involving horses shut down” pending an investigation.
The animal was being led to a stable by a groom when it reared and fell back, suffering a head injury, according to HBO. The horse was put down at the track in suburban Arcadia.
During season-one filming in 2010 and 2011, two horses were hurt during racing scenes and euthanised. HBO defended its treatment of the animals, saying it had worked with the humane association and racing industry experts to implement safety protocols that exceed film and TV industry standards.
The humane association had called for a production halt at Santa Anita after the second horse’s death. Racing resumed after new protocols were put in place and proved effective, Karen Rosa, the AHA unit’s senior vice president, said in February.
On Tuesday Dr Gary Beck, a California Horse Racing Board vet, said he had just examined the horse as part of routine health and safety procedures before it was to race later in the day. The horse passed the inspection, the AHA said.
When the horse was injured, an attending vet determined that euthanasia was appropriate, he said.
Dr Rick Arthur, medical director of the state racing board, said such injuries occurred in stable areas every year and were more common than thought. A necropsy will be conducted, he said, which is routine with all fatalities at racing board enclosures.
The first two horse deaths drew criticism from Peta, which said that safety guidelines used in filming failed to prevent the deaths “so clearly they were inadequate”.
Kathy Guillermo, a Peta vice president, said at the time the group did not consider the matter closed.
“Racing itself is dangerous enough. This is a fictional representation of something and horses are still dying, and that to me is outrageous,” she said.
On Tuesday Ms Guillermo said Peta sent complaints about 'Luck' to Arcadia police and an animal humane society in nearby Pasadena.