Jack Klugman made his comeback several weeks ago on Broadway. If Akinemod, Klugman's 5-year-old mare, is nearly as successful in her comeback Sunday, she will win the race by the length of the stretch.
Klugman, who had a cancerous vocal cord removed in 1989, saw his acting career threatened. Then this summer, Tony Randall wanted to do a benefit stage performance of "The Odd Couple" for a scholarship fund for young actors, and Klugman was asked to revive the role of Oscar Madison.
Klugman had done Madison, the unkempt sportswriter, hundreds of times, but friends said the 69-year-old actor was extremely nervous as he went back to New York for a month of rehearsals. The night of the performance, Klugman/Madison and Randall/Felix Unger brought back all the rollicking memories; they received a standing ovation from the black-tie gathering, and now "The Odd Couple" may be revived for a one-shot television special.
Klugman's box seats are near the finish line at Del Mar, the better to run down to the winner's circle should Akinemod win Sunday's $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Breeders' Cup Handicap. But if Jerry Fanning, Klugman's trainer, had his way, the mare with only one defeat on her record wouldn't even be running.
"We're going," Fanning said, "but if it was up to me, we wouldn't be. I haven't been able to reach Jack, and he's been waiting for this chance for two months. He's been very excited about seeing this mare run again."
Fanning dislikes the weights for the Rancho Bernardo. In an eight-horse field running 6 1/2 furlongs, Akinemod and Survive are the co-high weights at 120 pounds apiece. The six other entrants will carry from two to 12 pounds less.
Akinemod has won six consecutive races, but because of a mysterious infection that veterinarians never did pinpoint, she hasn't run since winning the El Encino Stakes at Santa Anita 19 months ago.
"I thought they'd give her about 117, 118 pounds, tops," Fanning said. "Farma Way won four straight races last winter, and they only put 120 pounds on him for the Santa Anita Handicap. My horse has never carried this much weight, and all that time she's been away should have been a consideration. If she carries 120 in her first race back, what will they put on her down the line?"
Two weeks after the El Encino, in January of 1990, Akinemod was entered to run in the La Canada Stakes. She never reached the gate. A temperature developed, sometimes going as high as 104 degrees.
"They sent her to three different clinics," Fanning said. "They couldn't pin it down. At one point, they had it narrowed down to two bugs, but that was as close as they came.
"I thought she was the best filly around at the time. She was ready to take on horses like Gorgeous and Bayakoa."
Gorgeous won the La Canada that Akinemod missed. Fanning would like to think that Akinemod can launch a catch-up campaign Sunday that could lead to the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2. The trainer estimates that she would need three more races after Sunday in order to have a viable chance against Lite Light and Meadow Star, the standouts of the division.
Akinemod is the best horse Klugman has raced since Jaklin Klugman, who won the California Derby in 1980 and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. Klugman bought Lady Paese, Akinemod's dam, in order to breed her to Jaklin Klugman, but she died. Lady Paese was in foal to Time to Explode at the time of her purchase, and the result was Akinemod.
"I haven't slept nights waiting for her next workout," Klugman said. "It's incredible she's come back considering what she's been through. She was so sick, we might have lost her, but she's come back so strong. Her legs have never been a problem. She's always been sound."
Because of the surgery, Jack Klugman can't yell for his horses the way he used to, but he's no less enthusiastic about watching them run.
Horse Racing Notes
Oscar Oscar Oscar, another horse owned by Jack Klugman, was one of the winners on the day trainer Frank Olivares broke into the win column with two first-place finishes at Hollywood Park. . . . Akinemod's only loss, in her first start, came in a maiden race at Hollywood Park in April of 1989. She ran fourth, beaten by seventh lengths. Four of her victories have come at Santa Anita, one each at Hollywood Park and Del Mar. The Del Mar victory was in an allowance race in 1989. . . . Survive ran third in the Fantastic Girl Handicap at Del Mar on July 25. Magic Sister, who won that race, is also entered in the Rancho Bernardo. Others in the field are Tiny Kristin, Cascading Gold, Suziqcute, Forest Fealty and Streamer.
Bequest, one of the favorites in today's Ramona Handicap, hasn't run since winning the Santa Barbara Handicap at Santa Anita on March 31. "She was scheduled for a rest and then developed an abscess," trainer Neil Drysdale said. "But she would have had the time off even without the abscess." . . . Twelve horses are entered for Sunday's $300,000 Del Mar Derby, with Bet Goes On and Nijinsky's Prince on the also-eligible list. The field includes Repriced, Stark South and Track Monarch, who have already won stakes at the meeting. Also scheduled to run in the 1 1/8-mile grass race are June's Reward, Eternity Star, Hokusai, Warfield, River Traffic, Unduplicated and Soweto
Del Mar will offer betting today, between the first and second races, on the $1-million Travers Stakes from Saratoga. . . . Another stake today at Saratoga is the seven-furlong King's Bishop, which includes Apollo, a shipper from trainer Gary Jones' Del Mar barn. . . . Fourstars Allstar, once a probable entrant in the Del Mar Derby, remained in New York and finished third in a four-horse photo finish at Saratoga on Friday in the Gallant Man Stakes. It was Fourstars Allstar's third consecutive non-winning start since he won the Irish 2000 Guineas in May. Lech won the Gallant Man.