12/26/2012 4:36PM

Horses, acting were Jack Klugman's passions

Benoit & Associates
Jack Klugman, a part-owner, is surrounded in the Santa Anita winner's circle following Pretty Unusual's victory in the Grade 2 El Encino in 2010.

At a time when horse racing desperately seeks to attract high-profile owners from the entertainment industry, the game lost one of its most dedicated members with the death of actor Jack Klugman at age 90.

Just like in his acting career, Klugman’s ride in the racing industry took him to the highest peaks of his trade. Klugman earned awards on the stage and screen, and his horses ran in the biggest races the sport has to offer, highlighted by homebred Jaklin Klugman’s third-place finish in the 1980 Kentucky Derby.

“He just loved being at the track,” trainer Barry Abrams told the Los Angeles Times after the actor died Monday at his home in Woodland Hills, Calif. “He comes, makes bets, and sits all day. That was his life – horses and show business.”

Born in Philadelphia, Klugman was best known for his Emmy Award-winning role as the unkempt Oscar Madison on the television sitcom “The Odd Couple” as well as Juror No. 5 in the ensemble cast of the Oscar-nominated “Twelve Angry Men.” He also was the title character in the popular television drama “Quincy M.E.”

Much like his character in “The Odd Couple,” Klugman was an avid horseplayer, but by his own account, not a very good one. He met his ownership partner, landscape architect John Dominguez, at Santa Anita Park in 1962, when Dominguez offered a tapped-out Klugman a $50 loan to keep going for the day.

In 1974, the pair dropped a $12,500 claim on a filly named The End All, who promptly broke down during the race, leaving her unable to race.

However, what initially appeared to be a quick end to Klugman’s life in Thoroughbred ownership was merely the beginning.

“I always loved to gamble,” Klugman said. “I never got close to a horse. Fate dealt me a terrible blow when it gave me a good horse the first time out. I thought how easy this is. Now, I love being around them.”

Riley Cofer, who was the trainer of record on the claim slip, took pity on the pair and offered Klugman and Dominguez a free season to California stallion Orbit Ruler, who was standing for a fee of $500. So they bred The End All to Orbit Ruler.

The first foal, named Doctor Quincy after his new television show, was a forgettable sort, winning one of seven career starts. The second foal, a full brother to the first, did much better on the track, even if his name created some confusion.

“My partner [Dominguez] tried to humiliate me by naming the horse after me,” Klugman recalled to Daily Racing Form in 2010. “So we called the guy at the ranch, and he said it was a filly – how would you like to have that guy in charge of your sex life? So he named him Jaklin Klugman.”

California-bred Jaklin Klugman started fast as a 2-year-old, winning four of his first five starts and finishing his campaign with a nine-length score in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes. He came back at 3 to win the Grade 2 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields, making enough money to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, where he finished third behind Genuine Risk and Rumbo.

Klugman told People magazine after the race that he didn’t put a dime on the horse.

“I’m the world’s worst handicapper,” he said. “I bet on ’em, they lose.”

After the Derby, Jaklin Klugman finished fourth in the Preakness Stakes, then scaled back to become an accomplished middle-distance horse. The second half of his sophomore campaign featured wins in the Grade 2 Jerome Handicap and Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby as well as a hard-fought runner-up finish to eventual champion sprinter Plugged Nickle in the Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes.

“People might not believe me when I say that this colt has changed my whole life, but it’s the absolute truth,” Klugman told Sports Illustrated in 1980. “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.”

After his racing career, during which he won 10 of 19 starts, Jaklin Klugman retired to stud at the actor’s El Rancho de Jaklin in Temecula, Calif., where his biggest success as a sire was his son Sky Jack, winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup. Meanwhile, The End All continued to be a dependable producer for Klugman, with 11 winners from 12 foals to race, but none ever came close to the success of Jaklin Klugman.

Klugman continued to own horses and was a fixture at the Southern California racetracks. His next big horse was another homebred, Akinemod, who won six straight races in 1989 and 1990, capped by an 18-length win in the Grade 2 El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita.

Though Klugman had put his farm up for sale and scaled back his Thoroughbred ownership ventures in recent years, he still owned a small stable and partnered in horses, including Pretty Unusual, who won the 2010 El Encino Stakes, the same race her second dam, Akinemod, had won 20 years earlier.

Klugman’s breeding program was popular in California’s commercial market. Sci Fi Kin, Pretty Unusual’s dam, topped the 2012 Barretts Equine Ltd. January mixed sale with a final bid of $60,000.