I love the reaction of the industry insiders to the show. Some spout how great it is, just read Daily Racing Form's Andrew Beyer's review from a few weeks ago. In it he glows that it's "authentic." From what I hear, I agree. His perspective is that of a horse player and that's how he opens his piece, diving headlong into a live Pick 6 ticket. Whatever that's like, I'll never know, but there's a magnet we're all attracted to and the horse player has his Pick 6.
Then there's the other side, the folks who don't like it. The folks would be insulted by the way horse racing is depicted on the screen. Enter the legendary syndicate maven, Dogwood's Cot Campbell. His fear, and looking at the view from his chair, is understandable, but I feel a bit unreasonable. His fear is that the subtext, jargon, and depiction of "Luck's" horse racing culture is far too abrasive to bring in new fans.
"Thoroughbred racing is certainly in need of exposure - other than Derby time - but I cannot drum up any enthusiasm for the material that is being provided by this new Sunday night cable series," he writes. "Heavily reviewed and promoted, it is being seen by a great many people. And, if I were a novice, and got a glimpse of Luck, I would not want to go anywhere near a racetrack. And, also, if I were a novice, I would also not know what the hell the characters were talking about."
The show's creator, David Milch, has loved the racetrack his whole life and sees it for what it is: a cross section of character. It's even a little racy, a little dodgy, a bit unwholesome. Heck, Mount Doom was no picnic for Frodo, but every hamlet needs a shadow.
Mr. Campbell proceeds, “Dogwood Stable through the years has brought about 1,200 new people into racing. But, if these people had been exposed to the HBO series Luck, that number would not have totaled 200.”
Since Dogwood’s founding in 1969—a span of 43 years—it has brought a total of 27.9 new owners to the sport every year. Impressive. But I doubt “Luck” will have any influence over new skin buying into a share of the next big stud. There’s something to be said of the person who has enough scratch to buy a horse: they’ll buy one no matter what. It’s ego, even if it is a transparent cry for attention.
Everybody is always trying to fix the sport. But it needs to embrace its menial place in the landscape of American popularity. The people who already like it will pass it on. They are your ambassadors. Embrace them and the sport will float on inches above the ground.
In life there are winners and there are losers. Losing is okay; it's the only way to measure winning. Horse racing puts food on the tables of a few very wealthy folks, but for everyone else it’s as seedy as “Luck” presumably makes it out to be.
Still, doesn’t the bad boy always get the girl?
Brendan O'Meara tweets.