The Degenerates unite to purchase the horse that made them rich while Ronnie falls hard on his road to recovery
S1 E3

When a premiere season loaded with David Milch-scripted detail is only nine episodes long, each show seems to take a few minutes to recalibrate after characters drop early hints that things have changed since we last encountered them. The premiere concluded with the Degenerates plotting the best strategy to claim their multimillion-dollar Pick-6 payday without drawing unwanted attention; last week’s followup simply started with the money already in their pockets. Same thing with last night: Renzo had been crushed after he lost a draw to claim Mon Gateau, and his potential trainer Goose told him of another horse that could be had. (“I was gonna get him for my friends,” Renzo groaned then. “I don’t know what’s gonna happen now.”) In the interim, apparently, all four Degenerates came around to his idea of ownership and concluded that Mon Gateau was the only horse for them. Renzo can barely contain his childlike glee — he tells everyone in the hospital where they’re picking up Lonnie following his treatment for a cracked skull — and the quartet are now willing to pony up much more than the initial claiming price of $8,000 for the colt. (Renzo is my favorite character on the show so far — does actor Ritchie Coster’s sweet, well-intentioned doofus remind anyone else of John Cazele’s most famous roles?)

The prospect of owning of racehorse is also having a positive impact on Jerry, who’s tasked with negotiating with the new cowboy owner of Mon Gateau. Before making an offer, Jerry pays Escalante a visit at his barn, hungry for any inside scoop on the health of Gateau. For once, the gambling addict looks fresh and boyish, even as he’s shelling out dead presidents for Escalante’s insight. “Next race, he don’t get around the track,” sneers Escalante, who clearly is not over the sting of losing his favorite moneymaker. But Jerry’s not completely buying it, and he calls the trainer on it. They come to an understanding, and yes, just maybe, Escalante might be willing to train the horse again. “Come to a price with that cowboy, I tell you who should examine him,” he says, committing to steering the horse to a friendly veterinarian (a really friendly vet!).

Ace starts his day on the hotel treadmill, stopping when his friendly neighborhood probation officer checks in. Time to pee in a cup, Ace. “Door open?” Ace asks. “Not necessary,” answers the government employee, who accepts the offered apple from the buffet. Awfully deferential, this probation officer. Is it just because Ace is a man to be reckoned with? We find out later that Ace is not some simple wise-guy; he can free up $50 million with a few simple words in a corporate board room. So is this guy simply looking for a handout — something tastier than an apple? Or is his real assignment something deeper than pee-cup transporter?

At that subsequent corporate board meeting, Ace is treated with reverence. (The chairman, himself, calls Ace, “Sir.”) Only a fresh-faced kid — looking like a slick Wall Street shark from American Psycho — pipes up when Ace commits the company to taking over Santa Anita. “I see we mean to draw attention,” the kid says, sending Ace out of the room without another word. But the kid made an impression, and Ace senses some talent. Turns out he’s a master of muni derivatives. (Outstanding! Some Wall Street calculus should simplify these complex storylines!) “Send him to my place,” says Ace, who’s been looking for a new go-between for his imminent business with the mysterious Mike Smythe.

NEXT: Ronnie gets tossed and toasted

Now that Ronnie’s come aboard, Walter officially enters Gettin’Up Morning in his first race. Six furlongs. At the post-position draw, Walter tells a newspaperman that he’s hoping only that his horse doesn’t get stuck on the rail — and wouldn’t you know it, they draw the No. 1 post. That’s the least of Walter’s problems, it turns out. His experienced jockey is more of a mess than we ever thought. In his first race back in the saddle, just two days before he’s slated to guide Gettin’Up Morning, Ronnie falls from his mount and busts his collarbone. Was he tossed from the horse? Or did he flat out jump off, risking life and limb just so a doctor would prescribe him some new painkillers that he can then snort in the front seat of his car? Jeez, Ronnie.

The veteran rider isn’t the only jockey struggling with his recovery after an on-track incident. Leon, who’s expressed a weakness for bear claw pastries in the past, is struggling to make weight. Sweating away some pounds in the sauna after a breakfast of nothing more than orange juice, he faints, cracking his head open on the locker room tile. The doctor’s inclined to sit him down, but his agent Joey prevails on the doc to let him ride.

The new owners of Mon Gateau will likely be happy to hear that. Jerry agrees to buy the Degenerates lucky horse for $32,000 — well, $25,000 for the horse and $7,500 for the cowboy’s rusty gas grill. The gang is thrilled. Renzo wants to name their stables The Four Amigos. Lonnie wants to know what silks are. And Marcus reveals what he keeps stuffed in his stinkin’ laundry bag: cold hard cash. “I’ll get that barbeque cleaned up for you,” chuckles the cowboy after he grabs his wad of cash at the handover.

Escalante keeps his word to Jerry, and Jo the pretty vet gives Mon Gateau a clean bill of health. She swings by Escalante’s office afterwards, and finds the normally aggressively flirtatious trainer a little cold. “For the last two days you’ve been acting like looking at me gives you a toothache,” she says. “I’ve decided I think it wasn’t you,” he answers, explaining that he’s still determining who blabbed about his Mon Gateau scheme in the first place. “Don’t worry about it.” Jo’s hurt by the accusation and storms off. Turns out she’s not the type that holds a grudge, though. Because when Escalante arrives home at the end of the day, she’s there waiting for him and her hair is down. “Neighborhood watch,” she jokes. “Are you the person having trouble getting sex?” He invites her in, offers her a beer, turns the races on the TV, and then makes his move: “Wanna do it?” Yes, yes she does.

The muni-derivative kid visits Ace at his place — but there’s someone else waiting for him as well. Claire LeChea sneaks on to their elevator to lobby Ace on behalf of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation — an organization that lets prison inmates care for broken-down racehorses. How perfect: Ace loves horses and he’s been in prison! It’s an awkward meet-cute, but it’s Joan Allen so we know Claire’s not going away too soon.

Ace goes on to drill his young financial prodigy, Nathan Israel, who melts a bit under the heat of Ace’s queries. But he passes some secret test. “Not f—in’ stupid, this kid,” Ace nods, after Nathan excuses himself awkwardly for the bathroom. “Brains and ambition and thinks that’s supposed to get him somewhere. No f—in’ style though. He’s the type of kid that will irritate the sh– out of Mike.”

So Ace has his new money guy, the Degenerates have their horse, Escalante has his lady, but Walter is still in a bind. He needs a jockey bad, and he previously sent away Rosie, his second choice, to some minor-league track near Portland. The internal deliberation is eating him up: He now wants her back, but will she come? He decides it’s worth a shot and picks up the phone. Everything he’s worked for, his last chance in this business, may now by riding on the shoulders of an unproven exercise rider who might not even take his call.

What did you think about Ronnie’s fall? Intentional, accidental, or a little of both? Can we all agree that Jerry’s return to the gambling tables will not bode well for the Degenerates? Who do you think will be aboard Gettin’Up Morning in his first race? After only three episodes, do you have a favorite character yet?

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