RIP Jack Klugman: Actor, horseplayer, breeder, owner
Jack Klugman loved acting and loved horse racing. It was as simple as that.
His death on Monday afternoon at the age of 90 leaves two communities – entertainment and horse racing – reminiscing about his remarkable life. As an award-winning actor, Klugman's range of skills put him in such roles as Juror #5 in the 1958 Oscar-nominated drama “12 Angry Men” and the popular 1970s television comedy The Odd Couple. As a happy-go-lucky horseplayer and owner, he hit the board with a homebred colt that overachieved beyond all expectations.
In 1980, Jaklin Klugman – a gray son of Orbit Ruler the actor bred and owned in partnership – finished third in the Kentucky Derby, beaten two lengths by the filly Genuine Risk. Afterwards, according to an ESPN.com story, a radio interviewer asked Klugman what he thought of the most exciting two minutes in sports.
“'That,” Klugman said, “was the most exciting two minutes of my life.”
It was Klugman's first brush with a top-class Thoroughbred, but wasn't his last. A decade later, Akinemod, a daughter of Time to Explode he bred and owned, won six consecutive races, including an 18-length romp at Santa Anita in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes.
How Klugman became a breeder is a familiar story to many Thoroughbred owners. In 1974, he and fellow horseplayer John Dominguez, a landscaper he'd come to know in the cheap seats at Southern California racetracks, decided to pool their money, claim a filly, and have some fun.
They paid $12,500 for the horse, a California-bred daughter of Promised Land named The End All. Their hopes were detoured when the filly broke down in that race and was unable to run again. Trainer Riley Cofer, who claimed The End All on their behalf, felt sorry for the two and offered to arrange a free season to the California stallion Orbit Ruler, whose fee at the time was only $500.
The first foal was a filly the partners named Doctor Quincy in honor of the new television show (Quincy, M.E.) that Klugman was starring in. She wasn't much, winning one of seven starts and $8,650.
The second was the gray colt Klugman named after himself, apparently thinking it was a filly. And this foal turned out to be a runner.
Trained by Cofer, Jaklin Klugman won 4-of-5 races as a 2-year-old, then added three more victories from five starts, including the G2 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, en route to Churchill Downs and the first Saturday in May. He made a bid for the lead turning into the stretch of the Derby under jockey Darrel McHargue, but Genuine Risk proved too good, making history as the first filly to win the Roses since Regret in 1915.
Jaklin Klugman went on to finish fourth in the Preakness and later won the G3 Hawthorne Derby. He retired to stud at Klugman's El Rancho de Jaklin in Temecula, Calif., with earnings of $478,878. His best runner was Sky Jack, winner of the G1 Hollywood Gold Cup. Jaklin Klugman died in 1996.
“People might not believe me when I say that this colt has changed my whole life,” Klugman told writer Sports Illustrated's William Leggett in 1980, “but it's the absolute truth. Nothing ever had such an impact on me. This horse has brought me immense joy and tranquility at a time when I needed such a thing and thought I would never find it.”
Jaklin Klugman wouldn't have won any beauty contests.
“The first time I saw this horse,” the late Hall of Fame trainer Laz Barrera told Leggett, “I thought it was a rat that escaped out of the trap. In the last few years we have had great horses like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, Bold Forbes, and Spectacular Bid. Now we got something nobody knows what it is. We got a boy horse with a girl's name. But this thing is a freak, a horse that outruns its bloodlines. I don't know the way this horse was named, and I got a feeling I'm far better off not knowing it.”
Klugman continued to own a small stable of runners until the time of his death. Two years ago, he visited the Santa Anita winner's circle after the Unusual Heat filly Pretty Unusual won the G2 El Encino Stakes. Klugman was part-owner, with breeder Madeline Auerbach and trainer Barry Abrams.
“Jack gave us Pretty Unusual's dam, Sci Fi Kin, whose dam was Akinemod,” Abrams said after the win. “We gave Jack one-third share of the foal. The win put a smile on his face. There aren't many owners that age that get to the winner's circle in a Grade II race.”
Klugman earlier hit the winner's circle playing Oscar Madison, the sloppy, wise-cracking, cigar-smoking divorced New Yorker who loved to gamble. He was the perfect foil to his divorced roommate, the prissy Felix Unger, played by the late Tony Randall. The Odd Couple earned Klugman two of the three career Emmy Awards he won. It was a role that catapulted his career.
The Odd Couple ran from 1970-75, then Klugman landed on his feet with another hit, this one a drama, Quincy M.E. That show, about a medical examiner, ran from 1976-83.
His wasn't an overnight success. Before hitting it big with The Odd Couple, Klugman spent 20 years doing guest appearances on dozens of television shows, ranging from The Untouchable, Naked City, Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Fugitive among others.
Born in Philadelphia, Pa., Klugman was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He started acting while studying at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, served with the Army in World War II, then launched his career, working summer stock theater and finally debuting on Broadway in 1952. He lost his voice to throat cancer in the 1980s, then worked hard to get it back and returned to the stage and guest appearances on television.
Klugman died in Northridge, Calif., with his wife, the former Peggy Crosby, by his side.