By Debbie Emery – Radar Reporter
Horse loving viewers of HBO’s latest original series, Luck, were left reeling when a fictional horse was put down in the first episode of the show and were distraught to discover two real life race horses died during filming, and now RadarOnline.com has exclusively learned that there may have been a third four-legged victim on set.
“There has been at least two confirmed deaths of horses on the set, and there may have been a third death that it is not yet substantiated,” Kathy Guillermo, Vice President with PETA (People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals), told RadarOnline.com in an exclusive interview on Monday.
“We were told that during the filming of two racing sequences, that two horses broke down probably with broken legs and then were euthanized,” Guillermo explained, adding that although they have asked for more details, HBO has yet to answer many of their questions.
“This is fiction, but for the horses it is real and it is deadly,” she stressed.
According to a statement from the network behind the drama, which stars Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, and is filmed at Santa Anita Racetrack near Los Angeles, the deaths occurred in two separate incidents in 2010 and 2011.
“From the very outset of this project, the safety of the animals was of paramount concern to us,” HBO said in a statement to the AP last week. “Recent assertions of lax attitudes or negligence could not be further from the truth.”
However, news of a third possible death among the 50 horses used in the filming has outraged PETA, who are demanding an investigation and the release of vets’ records and autopsy results.
“We want to know who these horses were,” explained Guillermo. “We have heard that they were former racehorses,” in which case they may have been too old to run at the speeds demanded by production.
“We want to look at their racing history and find out their background.
“They said they ran the horses no more than three times a day with rest breaks in between. What happened in those rest breaks? If they weren’t cooled down that could be more dangerous then not resting them at all.”
HBO claims that it worked in partnership with the American Humane Association and racing industry experts “to implement safety protocols that go above and beyond typical film and TV industry standards and practices.”
After the second horse’s death, filming was temporarily halted until new protocols were put in place, including a second veterinarian to perform “soundness” checks on each horse and taking X-rays of all horse’s legs for any problems that could prevent a horse being used in race sequences.
“Thoroughbreds used for Luck run for shorter distances than in an actual race, with stunt horses and computer-generated special effects added to help bolster the completed scene,” said Karen Rosa, the AHA unit’s senior vice president.
With thousands of animals used in film and TV production every year, PETA say it is not acceptable for 6 percent of the equestrian cast of Luck to have been killed.
For instance, in Oscar-nominated War Horse: “No horses died, it was a safe set,” explained Guillermo. “Neither were there deaths in Seabiscuit and Secretariat, which were both centered around the racing world.
“I suspect this tragedy has to do with the condition the horses were in, which we’re continuing to investigate.”