An odd couple -- 'Quincy' and horse racing
TEMECULA, Calif. -- It ended on March 2, 1996, with a 10-minute phone call telling Jack Klugman the best race horse he'd owned had died at age 19.
Just like that.
In that instant, he heard the words -- "Jaklin's gone'' -- the actor's 22-year love affair with horse racing begin to wane.
So much so that he has placed his horse farm in Temecula up for sale. But not so much to quell reminiscing.
"You were the best in the country,'' Klugman is saying to the 10-year-old mare Akinemod.
The 73-year-old star of television's "The Odd Couple'' and "Quincy'' waves his hands dramatically and throws his body into every raspy word.
Commanding her front-office paddock here at Klugman's El Rancho de Jaklin, the doe-eyed Akinemod blinks at Klugman, then turns her gaze back to her 2-week-old foal, a long-limbed gray colt. The colt, still wary of two-legged beasts, moves tentatively toward Klugman. The actor shakes his head.
"A gray colt,'' he murmurs. "It's an omen.''
The little colt is the last offspring sired by Klugman's best horse to race, the multiple stakes-winning gray Jaklin Klugman, who died last year at 19 from a ruptured aorta. So-named because initial reports following his birth misidentified him as a filly, Jaklin Klugman finished third to Genuine Risk and Rumbo in the 1980 Kentucky Derby and was one of the top 3-year-olds of that year.
"The most wonderful time in the world,'' recalls Klugman.
Jaklin serviced three mares last year; only one became pregnant. It was Akinemod, Klugman's doughty mare who won six straight races from 1989-90 by a combined 38 lengths. Akinemod's streak took place at the same time Klugman lost a vocal cord to cancer, and he never failed to credit the mare with helping him through his recuperation.
Klugman kneels down, and the colt touches his nose to the actor's cheek. Klugman smiles beatifically.
"His name,'' Klugman says, slowly reaching toward the colt's face, "is Jak's Last Kin.''
And just like that, in no more time than it takes for the little colt to scamper back to his mother, Jack Klugman is in love again. His 40-acre, full-service ranch is now for sale at a bargain-basement $3.5 million. Akinemod is his only broodmare.
"I don't get out here as much as I used to,'' Klugman says, stuffing his hands into the pockets of his baggy khakis. "I used to try to get out here as much as possible, but with Jaklin gone ...'' His voice trails off.
Klugman, who lives in Malibu, recently returned from England and a four-month engagement of "The Odd Couple'' on stage with Tony Randall. Because the cancer surgery has rendered his voice gravelly, he must wear a microphone on stage.
"I feel good,'' Klugman says, ambling along the tree-lined path. "I got stronger from it. I didn't get prettier, but I got stronger.''
Derby historian Jim Bolus remembers Klugman as an owner who "really loved his horse. It was like it was his kid.''
Bolus recalls standing with Klugman after the race and watching Jaklin cool out.
"A radio guy wanted to ask him about the most exciting two minutes in sport,'' Bolus said. "Jack said, 'That was the most exciting two minutes of my life.'''
After finishing fourth in the Preakness, Jaklin Klugman rebounded to win the Jerome and the Hawthorne Derby. Early in his 4-year-old season, Jaklin bowed a tendon and was retired with 10 wins from 19 starts and $478,878.
Klugman admits he is not as gung-ho about racing as he was when Jaklin was running.
"I go to the track nowadays, and there's no camaraderie. The trainers aren't as friendly as they used to be. I miss the Lazaro Barreras,'' he said.
Klugman hopes to keep 10 acres of the property for Akinemod and her babies.
"I can't come down as much as I used to,'' Klugman says. "And I can't write a lot of this stuff off anymore. I haven't been able to work as much since I got sick.''
For now, Akinemod and her three children are enough. Still, Klugman wants to talk about Jaklin one more time.
"You know,'' he says, "as a yearling, he was a skinny thing. But we turned him out in a paddock with 20 other horses, and he ran the place.''
Klugman shrugs. "I feel good, and Jaklin's left us a wonderful kid that's just like him,'' he says. "What could be wrong?''
Not a thing. Certainly, not when Jack Klugman's in love.
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)
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