RIP Jack Klugman: Actor, horseplayer, breeder, owner

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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.

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  • Don Reed

    A really great man, a star without the ridiculous egos most develop, and a genuine, everyday horseman who supported his trainers well.   And a wonderful comedian. 

    Jack, thanks for the laughs and for not losing your mind & quiting racing forever on the day that when you claimed The End All (another jinxed name!).  

  • Ole Bob Bowers

    Jack was the only owner I trained for that made me happy when he visited his stock. Didn’t have a mean bone in his body, and I was assured a morning full of laughs! You also mentioned another classy horseman Paul, that being Riley Cofer. Being friend-ed by those two was equal to winning a Grade One Stake Race. With friends like them up there, I don’t mind being on the also eligible list, cause one day I’ll draw in and the good times will begin again. I’ll miss you guys until then.

  • Michael J.Arndt

    One quick story – Jerry Fanning was Jack’s trainer, and Frank Olivares rode his horses. They brought a horse down from Hastings Park in Vancouver who had been getting held back for a few races apparently. Jack was always on pins and needles before a race, but this time he was frothing at the mouth. He kept pacing and then walking up and betting more. It was the daily double (back then there was only one) and he kept asking who I thought had a chance in the second and betting more and more. Finally he was betting when he had no one behind him and I said “Jack, what’s the story on this horse?” and he said “All this horse has to do is get out of the gate – just break clean – and he’s gone.” I can still see is eyes. He was soooooo goddamn excited. Its Christmas morning and if you take the look on our 7 and 4 year old grandkids faces in about 3 hours when they walk in this living room, and multiply is by 20 you have an idea. Anyway – as it always seemed to be for Jack – the horse got pin balled, then got dirt in his face and wouldnt run a step! I dont think I ever felt worse for a guy, and I’ve had many players who lost the last leg of the Pick6. This was when Jack first was going thru his throat cancer, and I know the track was his best medicine, so you so wanted to see him win. That’s the race I will always remember him for more than any other. “Can ya believe it?!?!?!” he sputtered “Can ya believe it?!?!?!” It was almost like being in a scene with Oscar Madison. I think that is what Jack used to play that part, the feeling of getting a bad beat at the track, cuz when you watch the Odd Couple and see Oscar blow up, and then the resignation in his face…man, Jack Klugman was a racetracker thru and thru.

  • richardcubetus

    was in santanita grandstand and heard a guy yelling for his horse he lost but he talked to the strangers near him lamenting the beat. everyone new it was jack but he was always one of the guys. i like this horse because of this or that, it was was great day for me. i still tell the tale of picking horses next to him, he was fun and i was the happiest losing better that day. i hope their are tracks in haven. what a nice man.

  • Alan Laythorpe

    Yes, Jaklin Klugman was wiithout question one of the ugliest horses to ever race in top flight competition but as we know horse racing is no beauty contest.
    This horse was no THE GREEN MONKEY! – Alan

  • Juleswins3

    I loved the Odd Couple and I loved Quincy, M.E. R.I.P. Mr. Klugman, you gave me many an enjoyable night on the tube!
     

  • Barry Irwin

    Before he was a famous actor, he was a “real” horseplayer. I used to see him all the time and he was a “regular” a guy as ever walked the ground floor of a Southern California racetrack. Guys like Jack and Julio Canani cut their eye teeth on handicapping the card in a day and age when the double was the most exotic bet on the card. A truly great character.

  • Bruce Walker

    Years back we hired Jack Klugman to voice over radio commercials for Woodbine Racetrack.  We picked Jack up in a limo in LA and headed for the studio.  I had met Jack prior to this when he was starring in the stage version of The Odd Couple in Toronto and was a regular in the Turf Club at the track.  Jack had no sooner settled in the car when he handed me The Racing Form.  “Bruce, you study the first race, I’ve got a horse in the second and she’ll win,” he said.  “I’ll study the script”   Jack, pressed for time, nailed the voice overs in one take and we dashed for the car and Hollywood Park.  “Who do you like?” asked a very nervous Klugman.  I told him I was torn between two horses, one ridden by Canada’s own Sandy Hawley and the other by Laffit Pincay Jr.  I finally settled on Pincay’s mount.  Klugman showed us to his box, then bolted for the windows.  Pincay did a masterful job, as always, and got up in the last couple of strides to win.  In the paddock Klubman stall-walked.  “I don’t like this,” said Jack.  “This horse always recognizes my voice, and she’s just standing there looking sad,” he  lamented.   His trainer (whose name escapes me) told him not to worry, she was in good order.
    Klugman could barely sit still.  Then they were off.  His filly was working her way through the field and at the top of the stretch was in striking position.  She just missed.  Klugman was down-trodden.  “Don’t tear up your tickets yet,” I shouted.  “Your horse was bothered in the stretch, and this winner could come down.”   The inquiry sign flashed.  Then the decision rendered.  Klugman was a winner.   “Meet me at the bar, I’ll be there in a minute.   You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.  In his hand he held a brown paper bag.  It was bursting with money.  “Buy the boys a drink,” Klugman said to the  bartender. as he slapped down a couple of large bills.  “I’m heading to Vegas, it’s my lucky day.”  It was my lucky day meeting such a gentleman.  Classy and funny.
    I hope he struck it rich in Vegas, too. 

  • Don Reed

    Great story.  True, too.  Thank you.

  • Don Reed

    Beautifully expressed. Thank you.

  • Beachy

     Yes, beautiful.  RIP Mr. Klugman.  “Quincy” was more my generation than “The Odd Couple”, so I didn’t get to watch the latter much, but I always loved “Quincy”.  I can imagine you all feel so blessed to have known such a character, handicapper, owner, and horse lover.  May he sing with the angels… 

  • WILLIAM L. ANTON

    I had the pleasure in a Hollywood restaurant to run into Mr. K.  I was being careful not to really interupt him. After introducing myself and telling him I was in horseracing, I soon became his new best friend.  I told him I was part of the Doonesury group that he had beat in the California Derby.  He was even more acceptable to some fun conversation. He did not care if you were a King or a Queen or just regular people he loved everyone. I still remember (not degrading his acting ability, because he was great) but while talking with him that evening I said he wasn’t acting during the Odd Couple, that was just his great funny and wonderful self.  Racing has lost just a real plain loveable ractracker.  A night that a regular guy like myself will never forget.  Thank you Jack, and God Bless.

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    We po folks all hope for another John Henry…one day soon…have a great trip Jack!!!…ty OBB…

  • http://Bellwether4u.com James Staples

    Well “THE IMMORTAL” JOHN HENRY was far from a BARBARO on the outside…the rest is HI$TORY!!!…ty Alan…

  • http://www.facebook.com/SusanKayne Susan Kayne

    Those were the days ….. Hollywood and Horses. Such a lovable fellow on screen and off, a real race-tracker at heart. RIP Jack. Thanks for the memories.

  • Francis Bush

    Glad for his contributions to racing. Tony Randall carried him in the Odd Fellows.

  • Don Reed

    Comment is reminiscent of Madoff
    in his prison cell complaining that he “carried” his family &
    clients.

     

    Best not be said (an insane comment).
     But the disease spreads & hence, there’s
    always one ass**** during the holidays who scrounges up the energy to say
    something instantly despicable.

  • Rcubetus

    a nice guy did not need that cheap shot.

  • Ole Bob Bowers

    Mr. Irwin, you just used Mr. Klugman and Canani in the same sentence…for no apparent reason. We are gathered here to honor Jack Klugmans passing and the class he displayed here on Earth. Canani doesn’t fit, for any reason. To compare them in any way is classless.

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