JC / Railbird


Milch Reads “Luck”

This is awesome: David Milch reads from the first 20 pages of “Luck.” The reading, which took place at the Kelly Writers House in April, begins about 17 minutes into the audio (MP3). There’s a little dark humor, a lot of racetrack talk. It sounds very, very promising. (Thanks to Tony Hanadarko for the link!)

HBO has yet to make a decision about the “Luck” pilot, filmed this spring, but Santa Anita officials believe there is “a very strong possibility” it will pick up the racetrack drama, which stars Nick Nolte and Dustin Hoffman.

7/15/10 Update: HBO has picked up “Luck.” Said a network executive, “Michael Mann delivered a pilot from David Milch’s brilliant script that took our breath away.” Production will start this fall, the show will air in 2011.

Prosy Things

Eric Crawford’s recent Courier-Journal column on all the great writing inspired by the Kentucky Derby sent me to the archives for a bit on writing a Derby sonnet that E.B. White included in a New Yorker humor piece:

What about the first horse I ever bet on? That was in Lexington, Kentucky, where I had gone to seek my fortune in an atmosphere favorable to the competitive spirit. (I had held three or four jobs around New York that winter, but they were prosy things at best and I felt I was losing my fine edge so I got out.) My first horse was a female named Auntie May. She was an odd-looking animal and an eleven-to-one shot, but there was this to be said for her — she came in first…. Kentucky was lovely that spring. I got twenty-two dollars from the contest and would have let it go at that if I had not chanced to fall in with some insatiable people who were on their way to Louisville to enter other contests. I went along with them. It seems I got hooked in Louisville. The Derby was a little too big for me, I guess. Easy come, easy go. But I didn’t quit. I was temporarily without money but I still had a sonnet or two up my sleeve. After the race I returned to my hotel … and wrote a fourteen-line tribute to Morvich, the winning horse, and later that evening sold it to a surprised but accommodating city editor. If you will look in the Louisville Herald for Sunday, May 14, 1922, you will find my sonnet and see how a young, inexperienced man can lose a horse race but still win enough money to get out of town. You needn’t thumb all through the paper … it’s right on the front page, in a two-column box.

White’s mention of Morvich reminds me … while it’s now a fashionable conceit that top 3-year-olds tweet, back in 1922 the Derby winner spoke in far more than 140 characters. Here’s Morvich, as channeled by Gerald Breitigam, in “An Autobiography of a Horse,” recalling his Derby experience:

At length, after long waiting, the Derby hour struck. It was late, nearing five o’clock. But the air was warm, the sun bright.

Ah, my friend, how to describe the feeling that animated me as little Al Johnson, my jockey, rode me to the barrier? Beautiful women filled the clubhouse boxes. The stands were densely packed, and ablaze with many colors, for these Kentucky women are not afraid to put on gaiety at a fete. And as we moved along, the track, it could be seen there were dense masses of men packing the outer rail to and beyond the quarter pole …

Ah, but when I appeared on the track, you should have heard the clamor. It seemed to me it would rend the heavens above, or shatter my ears. Sweeter music was never heard … ‘Morvich! Morvich!’ was the cry from all sections …

That parade to the post. How describe it? One must see such things to know what they are like. There were ten of us, thoroughbreds, the class of the turf, and let nobody tell you we did not know it. What beautiful things they were, those other horses. I could not help admiring them, even envying them a little, their grace and perfection of form. Yet it was I who was Morvich, the Unbeaten; I, the least well-favored of them all.

At the post I wanted to be off at once. This would not do. There had to be perfect alignment. Several times I darted forward. Finally, one of the starter’s assistants took my head, and held me thus until the barrier lifted. We were off!

The race was in the first hundred yards. For in that distance I was free and clear of the field, I had the rail, and there could be no jam or piling up the turns.

I covered that first furlong in a little under eleven, killed the field at the start, and took the heart and fight out of all those picture horses. First one and then another of the field would forge ahead and try to come up with me. But each who thus bid for fame held on but a little while, then fell away. Behind, I could hear the whip being plied as we came into the stretch, and I knew those beautiful horses were being given whip and spur in the endeavor to force them up to my race. But no whip ever touched me. And I would have run faster had it been necessary, but little Al never let my head out, even in the stretch, but always held me in …

And so I came home, just galloping, at the end. I had taken the lead, I was never headed, and I won by two lengths…. Whatever else I shall do, whatever laurels I shall receive in other races, cannot compare to this:

That I, the ugly duckling, the horse sold four times before an owner could be found who would put faith in me, ran undefeated through a season and won the Derby crown.

Kind of makes me want to read that sonnet.