Ian Jory once fouled up a horse's training regimen. The penalty was a trip to the United States.
To a man raised in rural Hertfordshire, England, the sentence was almost worse than getting fired. The United States was a land of cops, robbers and robber barons. It was a place inhabited by people named Kojak and the Ewings, a country where the good guys didn't always win.
"You grow up watching shows like 'Kojak' and 'Dallas' or 'Dynasty,' you get a warped view of the United States," Jory said. "All the American television shows and films make this country out to be like the back streets of Brooklyn or Watts. They don't portray the true America."
Jory, 33, soon discovered a clearer vision of the United States. It's a place where a man can start out with $200 and a borrowed saddle and wind up a decade later trying to fulfill a backstretch American dream. Jory is training a horse named Best Pal in a Triple Crown assault that continues with today's running of the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.
"I like American racing," Jory said. "You give the small guy a chance."
Jory came from England to the United States by way of Australia, France, Ireland and Germany. The son of a doctor, Jory expected to become a veterinarian. But he was sidetracked after reading a Dick Francis novel, enthralled by the mysteries with racing themes.
"I always wanted to be around big animals," he said. "Cows. Horses. Pigs. I figured they were in my future."
Jory worked for Sir Mark Prescott and Jeremy Hindley, trainers at Newmarket, England. He even galloped horses in Sydney, Australia, and knocked about tracks in Europe.
"It's hard to become a trainer in England," he said. "You have to have $1 million or $2 million to buy a stable and get going. Or you have to be born into the profession. Even when I wanted to be a farmer, I knew I'd have to manage someone else's farm. And that's no way to be your own man."
In 1981, Jory finally reached the United States. He was working for Hindley then, but after a bad training session, he was banished to the 1981 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita with a filly named Star Pastures.
"I was in disgrace," he said. "I screwed up big-time. I had to pay a penalty."
But the trip was worthwhile. Star Pastures finished second, and Jory met a fellow Briton, trainer John Gosden. A year later, Jory took a job with Gosden and moved to California.
Jory loves and loathes Southern California. The racing is grand, but the living can be difficult for a man accustomed to pastoral settings.
"I'd like to get out of Los Angeles," he said. "The air stinks. The traffic stinks. Too crowded. I can't say a lot about it. But people are good. And the racing is good. I don't particularly want to bring up a family there. But my wife knows that I'm married to the horses first and her second."
His first months in California were miserable. Jory lived in a tack room at Hollywood Park and didn't have a car. He was homesick, yet determined to build a stake in U.S. racing.
After four years with Gosden, he went out on his own, scuffling with maidens and claimers, getting by on four third-place finishes in 1986 and two wins in 1987.
Jory's break came in 1990, when he was given an unknown horse named Video Ranger, which had been claimed for $40,000 by Cho Myung Kwon. Video Ranger finished second at the Santa Anita Derby and went to the Kentucky Derby. Going off at 66-1 odds, Video Ranger finished fourth.
Jory has one of the stronger horses in this year's Triple Crown campaign. Heading into the Kentucky Derby, Best Pal was probably the fittest and fastest 3-year-old left running. But after drawing a spot in the auxiliary starting gate at Churchill Downs, Best Pal fought valiantly to finish second behind Strike the Gold.
"We didn't get a clean run in the Derby," Jory said. "We were in the 15th gate, and we were 10 lengths back in the first turn. We were blocked until the final turn and had to wait for daylight."
At the Preakness, the draw won't be a problem, and Pimlico's fast surface should suit Best Pal's style.
"We might well have the best horse," Jory said. "I really wanted to win the Derby. But I'd love to win just one of these races."