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A Little Bit of Luck

The holidays seem to come upon us quicker and quicker each year, don't they? It seems like just yesterday it was the Fourth of July, and now we're right in the middle of the holiday hustle and bustle. Before we know it, the New Year will be upon us and we'll be talking about the three-year-olds and Derby prep season.

I've been noticeably light on posting over the last few weeks due to Christmas parties, travel... everything under the sun. I downloaded the Form for a couple days of Gulfstream last week, hoping to get a few plays in at some point, but never got the time to really sit down and handicap.

Below are some items of note that you probably already know about but that caught my eye as I was playing a little catch-up the last couple of days, including my take on the debut of Luck on HBO:

  • Weemissfrankie, 3rd in this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, went off as the odds-on favorite in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet on Saturday, only to finish a disappointing fourth after a horrible start, and suffering a leg injury in the process.
  • Rapid Redux will go for for his 21st consecutive victory, and 19th victory in 2011, when he runs in the sixth race at Laurel Park tonight today. He will once again face off against $5,000 Starter Allowance company, this time at a mile and a sixteenth. If he wins, he will tie Citation and Roseben for the most victories in a single year. As I wrote previously, when you consider the fact that top class horses rarely run 20 times in their career, you've got to hand it to this hard-knocking gelding. [UPDATE: And he got it done; Rapid Redux held off Awesome Rhythm by a half-length to win his 21st consecutive race and his 19th race of 2011.]

On Sunday night, HBO premiered the first episode of "Luck", the Michael Mann directed, Dustin Hoffman starring, horse racing themed series. The first episode, which typically had to set the stage with the introduction of every character in a short period of time, touched on a lot of the sometimes stereotypical views of life at the race track: the degenerate gamblers betting with their disability checks (and, of course, one that's in a wheelchair and on oxygen), the ex-con using a front to own a horse, the old grizzled trainer, the young, hot-shot jockey, and the obligatory horse breaking down on the track (and the degenerate gamblers not caring because they still hit the Pick 6 with after hitting the "ALL" button in the last leg and then looking to skirt IRS laws.).

I suppose the general public expects to see those things, so it fits in with the narrative. And I think, overall, the episode was well-written and enjoyable. I've always felt that a race track could be a great setting for a TV series or a film due to the wildly diverse group of people associated with the sport on a day-to-day basis. You've got some extremely wealthy owners spending literally millions of dollars on horses, along with the non-millionaires. There are the trainers, the jocks, the track officials, the gamblers - it's a fascinating collection of personalities and backgrounds, all thrown together in a self-contained community. And it think that's something that Luck touched on fairly well at the beginning. I enjoyed it and will continue to watch this season.

Personally, I think you can show the "degenerate gambler" side of the sport without leaning to the extreme of degenerate. I half-jokingly put on my Twitter profile that I'm a "degenerate horseplayer, and proud of it." But I'm not sure what a real degenerate is - I suppose it's the guy (or gal) that loses the mortgage/rent/car payment at the track, and scourers over the Form while drinking their morning "coffee". Of course, there are countless people like me who play the horses on a regular basis and still manage to pay their bills, hold down jobs, raise kids, have advanced degrees, and simply love the challenge of the track. But I suppose that's not as exciting as the guy betting his Social Security into a Pick 6, even though, in my opinion, the people that bet the horses are a little more diverse than most realize.

Anyway, back to Luck; all of the themes in the first episode were ones that I expected to see since they add to the drama and the storytelling, which is what TV entertainment is all about. There needs to be a hook, conflict, a story keep you coming back for more, and I think the initial episode outlined those compelling themes in a wonderful setting.

Personally, out of everything, I could do without a euthanized horse in the very first episode. Not because I think horse racing should cover up or "hide" a very real part of the sport. But rather, I feel that the breakdown of horses, while a very real issue in the sport, is treated as more common place than it actually is.

I watch countless races over the course of a year, along with many trips to the track, and the number of catastrophic breakdowns - breakdowns that require on-track euthanasia - that a've seen are in the minority. Very small minority. That's not to say I don't see injuries, or haven't witnessed breakdowns. I do. We all do. But it's not like every trip to track you have to watch a vet put down a horse. I suppose it's a small quibble, but going into the first episode one of the top thoughts I had was, "they'll probably show a horse die on the track in the premier." At least I could see it coming.

Beyond the sadly obligatory horse breakdown, Luck touched on some of the very things that make the sport of horse racing so interesting: a player can win a life changing score in the Pick Six (even if it's extremely rare), the competition between jockeys is fierce, there is much hope and expectation when a new horse enters a barn and hits the track for a morning gallop for the first time, and there is lots and lots of money surrounding the industry, whether it's through buying or betting.

Chantal Sutherland and Gary Stevens provide some real-live horse racing folk to the show but I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the White Knight, Bob Baffert, needs to make an appearance at some point. He seems made for Hollywood.

The next episode of Luck will air on Sunday, February 5th, 2012, and every Sunday after until March 25th.