10/20/2011 1:51PM

Hovdey: Jory grateful for life over limb


Ian Jory, best known these days as the California-based representative of International Racehorse Transport of Britain, awoke to a summer morning last August in his L.A home, groggy from sleep and still a little disoriented after a recent stretch in the hospital. He was on his side of the bed he shared with his wife, Jo, and in turning to rise he led as usual with his right leg, in search of the bedroom floor.

“I’d forgotten it was gone,” Jory said. “Down I went, tumbling to the floor.”

Jory, 53, lost half his right leg to what could only be called life-saving surgery in early August. The month before, complaining of minor pain and filling in the knee, he was greeted with the news that a rare, though benign, growth formation was the cause and that the growth needed to be removed.

Once in the knee, however, Jory’s surgeons discovered a second tumor, which turned out to be deadly as they come.

“Having been disturbed, it was in danger of spreading quickly to the lungs,” Jory said. “One that happens you’re toast. The word ‘amputation’ was in the second sentence from the oncologist, and even though it came as a complete surprise there wasn’t much of a choice. Off it came.”

Jory was checked stem to stern for traces that any cancerous tissue already had spread. He was clean.

“I was lucky,” Jory insisted. “It was a ticking bomb. Anything could have set it on its way. They told me that the first growth they found was incredibly rare, that the second was even rarer, and the fact you could have both in the same body was a statistical rout. I think they’re writing papers about it already.”

Jory came to these shores from his native England in 1983 after stints with trainers like Mark Prescott and Jeremy Hindley. His r é sum é got him a spot in what was then John Gosden’s burgeoning California stable. If the boss was busy and the chores were done, Jory was always happy to give a visitor a peek at Royal Heroine, Bates Motel, or Zoffany, just to show the best of the wares.

Jory went on his own not long after that, with the distinction, if nothing else, of using more letters on his monogrammed webbings than any other trainer on the grounds. The gold on green “IPDJ” (for Peter Dunstan in the middle) became a familiar sight even before Jory made a national splash in the 1990 Kentucky Derby with Santa Anita Derby runner-up Video Ranger, a $40,000 claim who finished fourth at Churchill Downs to Unbridled, Summer Squall, and Pleasant Tap.

That same spring, Jory commenced the career of a homebred gelding from the second string of 2-year-olds from John Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm. By the end of the season, Best Pal had earned more than a million dollars and finished second in Eclipse Award balloting.

The following season, Best Pal was second in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 1 3/4 lengths by Strike the Gold. That summer, Mabee took Best Pal away from Jory and put him in the care of Gary Jones, a twist of the knife that has stayed longer with Jones than Jory.

“I told John not to take him away from Ian,” said Jones, a frequent Hall of Fame nominee, now retired. “He’d done a great job with the horse and as far as I could tell never put a foot wrong with him. John said if I didn’t want Best Pal he’d send him somewhere else.”

Long story short, Jones and then later Richard Mandella built on the foundation Jory’s work provided as Best Pal ended up winning $5.6 million and earning a place in the Hall of Fame. For his part, Jory went on to train a number of stakes runners – including Marvin’s Faith, Mateo, Vying Victor, Sonja’s Faith, Marina Park, and the millionaire Continental Red – before taking a private position with Saudi Arabian Prince Sultan al Kabeer in early 2005 that lasted three years.

Jory has been with IRT the last four years and plans on many more. His serious rehabilitation has commenced.

“I’ve got my first leg on,” Jory said. “Had it about three days now. It’s sort of like a piston with a flower vase on one end and a shoe on the other end. My stump’s about three inches above the knee, so this thing just slots onto that, as it were.”

It takes a heightened degree of concentration for Jory to replicate some sort of leg motion with the prosthesis, but with the aid of walking sticks he’s getting the hang of it.

“You’ve got to get used to kicking the leg out in front, putting the foot down and rolling it over,” Jory said. “I’m sure I’ll get to the point where I don’t think about it, but for now I’m slightly shaky. Every now and then I make a misstep and nearly fall over.”

The temporary prosthesis will be adjusted as his upper leg accommodates the affects of the surgery.

“The stump will shrink, and then I’ll get my proper leg,” he went on, referring to a more permanent prosthetic limb. “In the meantime, friends have begun a contest to name this leg. The best one so far is ‘Eileen.’ ”

Jory’s dry British humor and sense of the absurd have held him in good stead through the ordeal. Within days of returning home from the amputation, Jory, a life-long sailing enthusiast, posed for the benefit of Facebook friends as a one-legged pirate, complete with hook, sabre, and parrot.

“I was getting a little depressed last week before I got this leg, which helped a lot,” he said. “And the phantom pain was a bit bothersome – it felt like my toes itched, or I was treading on broken glass, all because the nerve endings were still there in the leg and think they’re attached to the foot. But I really haven’t had any of those ‘why me?’ moments.

“Things are different,” he conceded. “I won’t say they’re not. My wife’s a nurse so she’s been wonderful through all this. I’ve been sailing three times – plenty of places to hang on – and I’ll be able to play tennis again, although the doctor said I’d have to be content with doubles.

“And I’m grateful to have kept on working through this,” Jory added. “Of course, for now I’ve had to have someone at the airports to help me with the legwork.”