To the chagrin of many, HBO announced last night that it is canceling its short-lived horse-racing drama Luck. The series had never been a ratings boon, but the people who did like it liked it a lot. HBO seemed to like it, too, buying a second season even before the first had come to a close. Alas, the program's fatal flaw was literally fatal: It couldn't stop killing horses.
Three horses died during the filming of Luck. After the third was euthanized, injured when it "reared, flipped over backward and struck her head on the ground," HBO finally pulled the plug. If the show's crew was having that difficult of a time not killing horses, it makes sense for the show to not run any more. What doesn't make much sense is a TV show getting canceled for horse abuse while horse racing itself is allowed to flourish.
In 2008, an Associated Press inquiry found that thoroughbred racetracks reported three horse deaths per day in 2007 and a total of 5,000 since 2003. Worse still is that many other deaths went unreported thanks to lax record-keeping. In the years since the AP's exposé, little has changed. Animal rights group In Defense of Animals asserts that around 800 racehorses continue to die every year due to injuries suffered on the track. More than 3,000 other horses injure themselves to the point that they can't complete their races. The fact is this: Horse racing is an inherently dangerous sport, and it always has been. TV didn't make it that dangerous, it simply added to the carnage. One can even make the case that the horses dying for Luck were doing so to give viewers a closer look at how ugly horse racing can be; isn't that better than dying so that people can bet on them at the Belmont Stakes?
It's a strange society in which a television show can't kill horses with impunity but the more than 50 thoroughbred tracks in the United States can. Perhaps the producers of Luck have more of an affinity for the horses, agreeing to quit after killing only three while people in the racing industry destroy thousands. Perhaps people believe a death on the racetrack is somehow more honorable than a death for HBO. Whatever it is, America's loyalty speaks volumes about how it prefers its horse deaths: Luck averaged only around 625,000 viewers per episode, but 14.5 million people watched the Kentucky Derby last year.