LAUREL -- There is life after Best Pal.
That's how Ian Jory sums up his experience after being the protagonist in horse racing's most controversial firing of 1991.
Although Jory had earned $1 million with the gelding, the 34-year-old Englishman was sacked by the horse's owners as trainer not long after Best Pal finished fifth in last year's Preakness.
Now Jory has resurfaced with another 3-year-old contender, a horse named Vying Victor, that is expected to be the pace-setter today in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
The race is the last major prep for the Florida Derby, scheduled for March 14, and is being simulcast at Laurel as the 12th race.
"For a long time, it was really tough," Jory said. "But now I can finally look at the horse [Best Pal] in a race and not get emotional. I knew it was coming. Even though we finished second in the Santa Anita and Kentucky derbies, the Mabees [John and Betty, the horse's owners] were dissatisfied. Everything I did was wrong.
"I was leaving in June to buy a horse in England when a girl came to the barn and said she was pulling out Best Pal. The horse left just as I was leaving to go to the airport. I was out of town for four days when all the controversy hit the papers. When I got back, I just put my head down and kept on working."
Jory said his business actually improved after Best Pal left. "I think people felt I had been unjustly fired," he said. "I picked up some new clients and now have about 28 horses in California."
One of these is Vying Victor, who had raced in England as a juvenile.
"He was big and backward, so it was actually a good thing he started out over there," Jory said.
The horse won the Santa Catalina Stakes wire-to-wire at Santa Anita in his last start.
"He has California speed and is unratable. He has to go to the lead, and I expect trainer [trainer D. Wayne Lukas] to send Goldwater out after him today," Jory said. "He will be trying to set the race up for Dance Floor."
Jory said he believes the Fountain of Youth is "wide-open." He said: "There are five or six horses all with a decent shot. People are running them to see how good they are, me included. Dance Floor hasn't worked beyond five-eighths of a mile and is going two turns after two months off. Pistols And Roses, the best horse in Florida, hasn't beaten anything."
Jory said he came to Florida to avoid racing against the top 3-year-olds in Calfornia. "If we win, we'll probably stay for the Florida Derby," he said. "If not, and we run well, we'll go for the $250,000 Remington Park Derby [March 15] in Oklahoma."
Jory said he's avoiding the Triple Crown, if possible. "It wipes out horses," he said. "I want to ship around the country and avoid the heavy-heads."
Whatever happens, a recent event put his life in perspective. "On Sunday, my wife, Timmie, gave birth to a little girl, Chloe," Jory said. "It's our first child. She makes life special."
NOTES: Francine Villeneuve escaped serous injury in yesterday's seventh race when her mount, Little Tay, broke a right leg and fell on the far turn. The horse was destroyed. . . . Apprentice Charlie Fenwick won three races on the card; trainer Bob Camac won two, including the feature with Green Eyes. . . . When Crown Mist won the fifth race, she paid $196.40, the highest win payoff at Laurel this year. . . . The Pimlico Special, run May 9, has drawn 35 nominations including all the best older horses in training. They include In Excess, Best Pal, Twilight Agenda, Donn winner Sea Cadet and Dinard. Local nominees are Sunny Sunrise, Gala Spinaway, Valley Crossing and Runaway Stream. . . . Baltimore-owned Dash for Dotty won his second straight race in the 9-furlong feature yesterday at Gulfstream Park. The horse is expected to bypass the Florida Derby and go instead in the March 9 Ocala Breeders Sales Stakes in Ocala, Fla. Yesterday's race was switched from the grass course to a sloppy main track. Craig Perret rode Dash For Dotty.