In watching the first two
episodes of Luck, David Milch’s new series
about the world of thoroughbred horse racing at
Santa Anita Park in Los Angeles, two things are

The horses,
at the center of
the sport and
beautiful props
in this HBO series,
move very
quickly. Everything
else does

But that’s not a bad thing.

Milch, whose western Deadwood is still sorely
missed by subscribers of the premium network
and his impenetrable John From Cincinnati by
not nearly as many, weaves a layered tale about
those in and around the race track. The mostly
sad current/back stories and the varied angle(s)
of the players — owners, trainers, stable workers,
jockeys, gamblers, track officials — don’t
rush out of the gate.

Dustin Hoffman’s Chester “Ace” Bernstein
has just finished a three-year stint after taking
the fall for a family member, who was set
up by a former business partner. Ace loves the
ponies, the life, and wants to expand his former
power base, all the while looking to exact revenge,
with the aid of his driver and confidant,
Gus Demitriou (Dennis Farina).

A wizened Nick Nolte is trainer-owner Walter
Smith, looking for his own form of redemption
through a promising colt.

John Ortiz is the talented, irascible Peruvian
trainer Turo Escalante, saddled by a major case
of paranoia. Jo (Jill Hennessy) is the track vet
and the brilliant Escalante’s girl. Richard Kind
plays Joey Rathburn, an overbearing agent for
minor and would-be jocks, including Rosie (Kerry
Condon), who is looking to graduate past training

There’s also a quartet of track gamblers.
Lonnie (Ian Hart) and Renzo (Ritchie Coster)
have their issues with women and stupidity,
respectively. Wheelchair-stuck, oxygen-sniffing
complainer Marcus (Kevin Dunn) and Jerry, the
stellar handicapper (Jason Gedrick) without
similar talents at the poker table, are far more

Then, there are the horses. Lovingly filmed
from low-angle camera positions on the track,
one gains a sense of the equines’ majesty that
doesn’t come across from the grandstand or in
the living room during network race coverage.

The sport of kings has been on a long descent
in America. But even if you’ve never been
to the track, it’s certainly worth placing a bet on
at least a few hours of Luck.