03/04/2010 1:00AM

Q&A: Jack Klugman

Benoit & Associates

Star of stage ("Gypsy"), screen ("The Odd Couple," "Quincy, M.E."), and film ("Twelve Angry Men"), a two-time Emmy Award winner as Oscar Madison on "The Odd Couple," he is the co-owner of Pretty Unusual, winner of the El Encino Stakes earlier this meet at Santa Anita.

Birthdate: April 27, 1922, in Philadelphia, Pa.

Family: wife, Peggy Crosby; sons Adam, David

First got interested in racing because. . .: "I won my first bet at age 18, and I thought, 'How long has this been going on?'"

How did your interest grow over the years? "It seemed to blot out all kinds of gambling. It seemed the best way to go. I started with just going to the races, and then decided I wanted to own a horse, and off we went."

Who was the first horse you owned? "Rings and Things. I claimed him for $4,500. About a year later, someone claimed him for $3,500, but he came out of the race lame, so I won."

What are your favorite memories of the 1980 Kentucky Derby with Jaklin Klugman? "When they said, 'And here comes Jaklin Klugman.'"

At the top of the stretch, Jaklin Klugman was right in the thick of it. Describe that feeling and your memories of the stretch run of the Derby: "The only horse in front of him was the filly [Genuine Risk], and I said, 'Wow, I could win, I could win.' I got weak in the knees, and God saved me. He came in third."

When Jaklin Klugman was born, it was first thought he was a filly, hence the feminine name. There must be a funny story behind that: "My partner [John Dominguez] tried to humiliate me by naming the horse after me. 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."

Who would you say are the other favorite horses you've owned, like 1990 El Encino winner Akinemod, and what made them special? "Akinemod won six in a row. The vets did not consult each other, and they over-medicated her [she never won again in four tries]. She would have beaten anybody. She was fast. If Jaklin had survived his fourth year, nobody would have taken him at seven furlongs. But he bowed [and was retired to stud]."

How exciting was it when Pretty Unusual won the El Encino Stakes earlier this meet? "Terribly exciting. She paid $61.40. Who wouldn't be excited?"

How did you end up getting back in the ownership part of the sport after all these years? "I never left. I kept in the ownership for as long as I could, which was continual."

When you were working on "The Odd Couple" or the many other TV, theater, and movie projects you were involved in during your career, did you make a point of going to track often? "I went every chance I could get."

Do you realize that all sports journalists of my generation thought Oscar Madison was the greatest character ever? "Well, he was my favorite character. I loved this guy. He was me. Sloppy but clean and a woman chaser."

Were there other entertainers who you used to socialize with at the racetrack? "Yes, I used to go with Dick Van Patten. I used to see Mel Brooks and his wife, Anne Bancroft, at the track often. But I was too busy reading the Racing Form and trying to pick winners."

Do you find racing to be an escape from work? "Yes, I find racing to be an escape, a way out, a way to have excitement in your life."

How often do you get to go to the races these days? "I don't get there that often because it is difficult for me to walk. I tend to only go when my horse is running."

Best horse you've seen, and what made that horse special: "Kelso. He carried 140 pounds and won almost every race."