The morning sun was beginning to warm Clocker's Corner, that area near the stretch curve at Santa Anita where owners, trainers, jockeys and hundreds of fans gather each racing day for breakfast, to argue the relative merits of horses, discuss upcoming stakes and tell whopping lies to each other. Jack Klugman, the TV actor, was seated at a table on the terrace there late last week, a soft blue hat tilted down to shade his eyes. Klugman is famous for playing Oscar Madison, the sportswriter, in the long-running (and rerunning) series The Odd Couple, and for Quincy, in which he portrays Dr. Quincy, the forensic-medicine specialist who solves complicated crimes almost as quickly as Oscar dirties up a clean apartment.
"People might not believe me when I say that this colt has changed my whole life," Klugman said, "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."
The colt Klugman was talking about is Jaklin Klugman, a 3-year-old that has the racing world in a buzz from Santa Anita to Aqueduct. A male horse despite his name, Jaklin is one of the early favorites for the Kentucky Derby and one of the top classic prospects based in the West. Most racing buffs, being sturdy traditionalists, find it hard to credit the record of this nondescript gray colt. By Nobody out of Nothing, as the putdown goes, Jaklin has turned out to be Something Very Special.
Within a recent nine-day period Jaklin Klugman convincingly defeated the West Coast's top 2-year-old of last year, The Carpenter, at Santa Anita, then was shipped to northern California and won the $154,500 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields. This victory was accomplished only after Jaklin overcame a vast amount of early trouble in the race and put on a determined stretch drive to win by a head over Doonesbury, who had never lost at Golden Gate. Furthermore, Jaklin had heretofore never shown he could come from behind. The colt has now won six of eight starts, handled a variety of conditions at four different tracks (Hollywood Park, Bay Meadows, Santa Anita and Golden Gate), earned $185,050 and gotten nifty speed ratings that impress even speed-crazed Californians.
"You can look at two million horses like Jaklin Klugman," says Loren Rettele, the trainer of Golden Act, one of last season's big horses, "and not a one will be able to run like that thing." Laz Barrera, who trained Affirmed, stood by the rail at Santa Anita one morning and watched Jaklin come on the track. "The first time I saw this horse," he said, "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."
Here's how, Laz. In August 1974 Klugman and his partner, John Dominguez, a landscaper now living in Sepulveda, Calif., claimed a filly named The End All at Del Mar Racetrack. During the race, The End All broke down and was never able to run again. The claim cost the partnership $12,500, and neither Klugman nor Dominguez knew what to do with The End All. "We couldn't have gotten $1,000 for her," Klugman says, "but Riley [trainer Riley Cofer] felt sorry for us and said if we wanted to breed her to Orbit Ruler he would give us the stud service free." At the time Orbit Ruler, who stands at Chino, about half an hour from Santa Anita, commanded the very modest stud fee of $500.
That first mating produced a filly Klugman-Dominguez named Dr. Quincy. It ran six times and won one race and $8,650, hardly an auspicious issue for sire and dam, but K-D tried again. On May 3, 1977 a second mating of Orbit Ruler and The End All yielded the gray colt—Jaklin Klugman—and, in truth, early looks offered no reason to think he'd prove any better than Dr. Quincy.
Klugman has told several stories about the naming of the colt, this one the most consistently: "I got a phone call telling me we had a filly, so we named it Jaklin Klugman. I guess we spelled it that way only because we wanted to, and all it's done is make a lot of people wonder and ask us about the spelling. It sounded O.K. I don't have any relatives named Jaklin. Later, when I found out it was a colt, I called the farm and told them that the next time they had a foal to turn it over before they told me what it was."
At the Friar's Club, or in any other show-biz place, the story was good. It played. Up in Chino, however, it doesn't play so good. Says Ray Coffman, the general manager of the J. K. Houssels Thoroughbred Farm, where Jaklin Klugman was bred, foaled and broken, "I never called Mr. Klugman when the colt was foaled. Until this year I never talked to or met Mr. Klugman. But we certainly never told him that a colt was a filly. Since I've met Mr. Klugman this year, I've grown to like him very much. He loves his horse and he comes up all the time to see Orbit Ruler and The End All."
Whatever the sequence of events that led to his name, Jaklin Klugman didn't impress folks around Chino, who thought he was something less than mediocre as a yearling. "He was O.K.," says Scott Coffman, Ray's son, "but you couldn't ever think he'd turn out to be what he is now."
The first time Klugman saw Jaklin was at a schooling race at Hollywood Park that spring. "He ran like the wind," Klugman says, "and when I saw that he was really good, I broke down and cried. I'm an actor and I can cry on cue. But the way the horse ran made me cry. Probably for a lot of reasons. Maybe it was the broken-down claiming mare and the free service that we had to Orbit Ruler. Hell, it was really much more than that."
What brought Klugman to tears, he adds, was not only the performance of the horse but also Klugman's relationship with Dominguez. "I first went to a racetrack when I was 16 years old," Klugman says. "I had been betting sports since I was probably 3, but I went to Garden State and bet a horse at 16. Twenty dollars. Hell, I didn't have more than $20. I had seen enough movies to realize that if you bet 20 bucks you would win a house. The horse I bet on won, and I went to the cashier's window and gave the guy my hat and told him to put the money in it. I thought I'd get a bundle. I got $44. But it hooked me. After that I went to all the racetracks in the East.
"About 18 years ago I wasn't doing very good as an actor, and I'd go to Santa Anita or Hollywood Park and buy a $1 seat. I'm a bad horseplayer. Always have been. I sit and bet my horses and tap out. I would see this other guy [he turned out to be Dominguez] at the track every day, and he would bet and do pretty good. But he would never show it. All we had was a nodding relationship. He was in the $1 seats, too. He was making $7,000 a year, and I was living mostly on hope."
Klugman started to get some acting work, but he still went to the racetrack regularly and bought his $1 seat. "One day," he says, "I completely tapped out on the card early. I was going out of the track when John came over and asked, 'Are you in trouble?' I said I was. 'Take $50,' said Dominguez. 'Supposing I take the $50 and never show?' I said."
Dominguez handed over the $50, and after that, says Klugman, "We sat next to each other all the time. I'm a proven rotten horseplayer. He's a great one. We began to be very, very close. His business picked up and so did mine, but we still went to the track alone and would meet up. We began to dream children's dreams about buying horses. All we wanted was a few claiming horses. We never thought about allowance horses. A stakes horse was far beyond us."
No longer. "Anybody who happens to be good enough to be in the talent industry knows that it will eventually wear a person down," said Klugman last week. "I've worked a lot of five-day weeks at 21 hours a day, either doing things or being on call. I've got the horse now and the money, but the horse is what matters. The most difficult thing for anyone is to make it in the talent industry, but the worst thing possible is not knowing how to escape from it for a single moment. After Jaklin Klugman, I'll have other horses. He got me out of the talent trap."
A week from now Klugman and Dominguez will put up a $5,000 supplemental fee to start their horse in the Santa Anita Derby, in which Jaklin will meet Raise a Man, the brilliant winner of last Saturday's $109,300 San Felipe Handicap. Bill Shoemaker, the jockey of Raise a Man, maintains that his colt is also an oddball. Raise a Man is smallish, 15 hands, 3 inches, and missed his 2-year-old season because of bucked shins, but he certainly looked good in the San Felipe when he eased away from The Carpenter for his third win in four starts. Shoemaker has spent the winter looking for a horse with the potential to win the Triple Crown, the one achievement in racing that has eluded him.
"I know my horse can run like hell," Shoe said last Saturday evening, "and I know he should get better. Yes, he's a freak. But so is Jaklin Klugman."