Thursday, February 02, 2012

“If Wishes Were Horses”

PLANTATION, Fla., February 2, 2012— I finally caught up with Episode 2 of the HBO horse racing drama series Luck and once again was amazed how it struck just the right racetrack tone, in harmony with a good old-fashioned who-did-what-and-who-will-do-what-to-whom storyline.

It’s the sort of the dark comedy that’s a fact of life on both the front- and the backsides of America’s racetracks; the sort of thing that David Milch did so well in Deadwood only this time incorporating humor along with the darkness.

Critics might not have been unanimous in their praise with “only” about nine out of 10 loving it. The best news, however, is that the series has been renewed for a second season. There have been nine episodes to date and now 10 more will be added beginning January, 2013.

According to an HBO press release, the series will go back into production by the end of this month.

Of all the reviews we’ve seen, the best entered my inbox earlier this week courtesy of my daughter Linda, who admitted she probably spends too much time on Vulture, the entertainment blog of New York Magazine.

Linda also explained that it was rare when a Vulture recap accentuated the film making aspect of a piece over plot line considerations.

The following excerpt isn’t as much a review as it is a paean to racetrack life, which begs the question: How can it be that a non-racing medium gets what it means to be a racetracker when the industry, including its media, never have figured a way to describe that sensation in order to attract more people to it?

“I don’t know if there is a God working behind the scenes in the universe of Luck, wrote Matt Zoller Seitz, “but the way [Michael] Mann photographs the track and its people, animals, bleachers, sheds, low-hanging clouds and fluttering birds makes it seem as though there are larger, unseen forces at play.

“Whether these forces can be explained via theology or physics is something the pilot never [pretended] to answer, and I doubt Milch or Mann mean to provide them.

“They seem content to watch characters deal with cosmic machinations that they spend their whole lives trying to understand and tap into. When one of these characters has a good day, or a big win, it’s like seeing a flower bloom in a junkyard.”

Damn, wish I wrote that.

Let’s all try to fathom what the reviewer got from one pilot episode bout life on the racetrack, and what he thinks makes this whole scene so fascinating. Clearly, anyone tethered to the racehorse already knows exactly what Seitz is appreciating.

Horse racing and life on the racetrack is a visual medium. Did you ever notice, for instance, that back in the day, and sometimes now, when manufacturers try to sell television sets invariably there’s a horse race going on?

Why? Because racing and the racetrack explodes with color, sights and sounds, and anyone involved in it, either as a principal or bettor/fan, know there are unseen forces at play.

Theology or physics? Exactly; who knows and why.

The results of a horse race divined via the practice of handicapping? Precisely. What is handicapping, exactly, science or art? It’s mostly both, although true fans know that you begin with science and end with art in order to draw the right conclusion.

Horseplayers attempting to “deal with cosmic machinations they spend their whole lives trying to understand and tap into.” Is that not what everyone who tries to figure out the winner of a horse race is attempting to do?

Isn’t that what happens when you land on a horse for no precise reason but you have a “feeling” it will win? Isn’t that feeling really a clue from the subconscious, knowledge that flows from the 10,000 hours of research that makes one, by definition, an expert?

“Seeing a flower bloom in a junkyard” is the precise moment a race develops in reality the way it dopes out on paper; the exact moment your practiced, reasoned selection crosses the finish line first; the instant a champion overcomes all obstacles and does exactly what it was supposed to do.

These are the thoughts and the pictures a horse-playing fan conjures up as he goes through the process of figuring just how a race will be run, selects the winner, walks out to the apron, picks up his binoculars and has a one-on-one relationship with these majestic beasts who were born to compete.

All of this culminates in what the great Hall of Fame horseman and racetrack sage, John Nerud, believes, that “a bad day at the track is better than a good day anywhere else.”

And so it matters not which end of the spectrum one considers when trying to draw a bead on another observation of Seitz’s, who posited that either you think this way of life is “an ancient tradition with a certain beauty and nobility, or a business built on exploitation.”

But that doesn’t matter. To paraphrase the late owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, in concert with the maxim of Bill Clinton’s political strategist, James Carville, “just sell it, stupid.”

Written by John Pricci

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