Santa Anita meet’s closed on Sunday and its numbers don’t tell a happy story*. David Milch’s racetrack drama probably won’t either, but the “Luck” preview released by HBO on Monday generates a good kind of excitement:
The horses used in filming “Luck” were some of the first to test the restored dirt track at Santa Anita last December, the same surface on which 19 horses were fatally injured during the meet. With an additional fatality on the training track and six on the turf course, the total number of fatalities came to 26 (as estimated here). Santa Anita is funding a safety study: “We hope that data will be important to us and something that we can apply.” That is to be hoped! It was a real pleasure to watch Santa Anita for three years and rarely worry about seeing a horse go down. After this meet, I can’t say that — and I’m not alone.
How’s this for ugly? Fatality numbers were almost all that was up at Santa Anita. While attendance held steady, handle declined. The track announced a 9% decrease in average daily handle, but the raw CHRIMS data, available through CalRacing, showed a 20.7% decline in gross handle over the previous year, from $589 million (PDF) to $467 million (PDF). Adjusting for eight fewer days, and a decline of 9.7% in the number of races carded, the Blood-Horse found average daily handle was down 11.6%. Pull the Pocket has an interesting theory on why Blood-Horse, which originally reported the 9% decline straight, revisited the handle numbers so thoroughly and quickly.
As long as I’m linking bad news, here’s more: The national HBPA officially opposes the proposed RCI ban on raceday medications. Apparently, a five-year phase-out isn’t long enough. “Blah. Blah. Blah,” says Ray Paulick. Exactly.
*Not a happy story, unless you’re a horseman or owner, in which case, hooray! Total purses were up 5.1% for the Santa Anita meet.
Production is set to begin October 31 at Santa Anita on “Luck,” complicated by the racetrack surface renovation underway:
All of the changes have forced HBO to break up filming of their episodes and have caused problems in booking certain guest cast members and in working with the series’ directors, Bronchtein said.
In addition, the crew has less days to shoot the early episodes and fewer days to prepare for upcoming ones.
“That just adds pressure to the process,” he said. “It’s really forced us to work extra hard and to be at the top of our game.”
The new track surface is expected to be ready by early December, which is when “Luck” plans to stage races for filming. That’s one way to test the dirt …
How has this tidbit not come up before? Bill Barich, author of “Laughing in the Hills” and “A Fine Place to Daydream,” is part of the writing crew on “Luck” and on the scene at Santa Anita. The handicapper-writer, who had been living in Dublin, told the Irish Times, “If all goes well … this gig, as opposed to my books, may keep me out of the Trail’s End trailer park in Santa Rosa.”
“To make these characters be alive, you have a sense of them intuitively and viscerally,” Mann said. “The challenge of it is obvious, but the economy of it is wonderful — if you can make it work.”
Making “the economy” work has been the director’s career. Khoi Vinh:
What’s left out from these movies is as important and beautiful as what’s included. They’re exercises in doing as much as possible with as little as possible, implying whole swaths of narrative information by allowing the audience to extrapolate events, details, backstories and subplots from only the barest hints of their presence…. Mann employs an architectural approach that establishes a plot framework but declines to fill every nook and cranny. He uses very few elements to suggest many more, and in so doing constructs a kind of environment that the audience experiences rather than a narrative account that the audience observes.
Or, as Mann tells his interviewer, discussing audience perceptions:
“It’s liberating to jump into the stream of a story and jump into the stream of a character and convey by attitude, ambience and the tone of that person — and their surroundings and how they’re reacting to those surroundings — the magic of what’s happening. When you can bring the audience into understanding and they have leapt over that little gap, and they’re getting it on their own, it’s a much more intense involvement.”
There is nothing about this show that isn’t coming together.
Bill Finley has nine, including Ellis Park, sales results, the likely Breeders’ Cup Classic field, and “Luck.” Two questions, though, regarding the latter:
Can such a thing create new racing fans? That’s debatable, but how cool will it be to have a hot TV show on HBO that is about the racetrack and racetrack characters?
For sure it’ll create a few new fans. “Seabiscuit” is still bringing people to the track, and David Milch’s “Deadwood” did wonders for Deadwood at its peak. But what will tracks do for the curious “Luck”-inspired visitors that will keep them coming back? That’ll be the question in 2011 …
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