Racing drama goes round track again

SECRET WEAPON: Nick Nolte plays an ageing trainer in the heavy but absorbing Luck.
SECRET WEAPON: Nick Nolte plays an ageing trainer in the heavy but absorbing Luck.

Once upon a time, people complained bitterly about TV's high rate of repeats. These days, they can be an absolute blessing, as with SoHo's re-run of Luck, Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Like a number of the high-end American dramas – The Wire being Exhibit A – it's a dense, concentrated slab of telly, and even those who saw it the first time round, early this year, might relish a second chew.

The headline story is the crusade of career mobster Ace (Dustin Hoffman) to avenge the handful of racetrack luminaries and hangers-on whom he holds responsible for getting him a recent jail sentence for corruption. Never mind, of course, that Ace has been guilty of so much more over the course of his life. Utu burns brightly, and he's already cooking up something shady involving a lively Irish racehorse called Pint of Plain, whom he has had an associate buy and have trained while he was inside.

It's beastly complicated keeping track of Ace's foes and where they all fit in the scheme of things. But as of this first episode, they don't all realise that he knows or thinks they did him down, so that period of reacquaintanceship gives the viewer time to get to know them before horrid things start befalling them.

Just to mandate further intense concentration, there are as yet unconnected major characters who, we uneasily sense, will become drawn into Ace's vortex. There is a bunch of ne'er-do-well but amiable enough racing junkies (one played by the always endearing Ian Hart), who have just pulled off a massive shared win on a pick-six. And there's the ageing Kentucky trainer (Nick Nolte), who has gained possession of a secretly brilliant horse whose provenance, were it to get out, would skew betting wildly. He is training the horse covertly, with the help of a young female Irish jockey, Rosie. But a sharp-eyed track veteran jockey's agent has spied its form, and is secretly scheming to get his protege in as the horse's rider for its debut, in place of the winsome Rosie.

Trouble is, the agent's boy has a booze and drug habit. And on it goes – a magnificent roil of what is basically soap opera plot lines, but all pitched at a Scorsese-like pitch of grim understatement which makes you lean in close.

The Dominion Post