Sizzling Fry can cook up storm with Rock On Ruby
This time 12 months ago, no one had ever heard of Harry Fry. He was just a young man running a satellite yard for Paul Nicholls some 40 minutes away from Ditcheat in west Dorset.
But the victory of Rock On Ruby, an inmate of that yard, in the Champion Hurdle changed all that. Indeed it has changed a lot of things.
One year on, Fry is training in his own right at Seaborough Manor, the base of point-to-point stalwart and farmer Richard Barber. His 17 winners have come at a notable 30pc – a strike rate better even than his old boss and Nicky Henderson – and, given a fair wind, he looks set to go all the way to the top.
Being involved with horses is all that Fry (28) ever wanted to do. "I can't ever remember not riding in some capacity," he recalled.
"At 13 I came here to ride out. Racing was all I wanted to be involved in. I'm lucky. I've got mates who have been through university and still don't know what they want to do.
"I spent my gap year working with the pointers at Seaborough and was due to go to Cirencester Agricultural College, but Richard said it would be a waste of time.
"A week before I was due to go to college, through Richard, Paul offered me a job. I turned it down, went to my first lecture, thought I couldn't put up with three years of that, came out and rang Paul from just outside the lecture hall asking him if the job was still there."
Fry spent four years as second assistant at Ditcheat but in 2010, with Dan Skelton looking set for a long stint as Nicholls' right-hand man, he decided he needed to take the next step and, together with Nicholls and Barber, hatched the plan for Fry to run the satellite yard.
"Richard said he would be on the gallops, he would criticise, but that I should get on with it," Fry said. "After all, this was the man who took one look at my hands and feet when I was 13 and told me to forget ever being a jockey, when all I wanted to do was ride the winner of the Grand National."
Rock On Ruby slipped in under the radar to win last year's Champion Hurdle. Nicholls preferred Zarkandar and, based at Seaborough, Rock On Ruby did not appear at any of the pre-Cheltenham parades, so it was almost a case of out of sight, out of mind.
"Paul was very quick to point out that though it was his name on the licence, it wasn't all quite as it seemed," Fry said. "It was great to get such a high-profile winner for the team.
"At the end of June we sat down, analysed the direction I wanted to go and what direction the satellite yard should be going in, and, with Paul's support, Richard gave me the opportunity to train here, and Rock On Ruby was a huge factor.
"Having him as a flag-bearer in our first season is something else and Opening Batsman winning the Racing Plus Chase a fortnight before the Festival took a lot of the pressure off. It proved we were not a one-trick pony."
An old head on young shoulders, Fry is not using the royal "we" here. His girlfriend and assistant, Ciara O'Connor, looks after, rides out and leads up Rock On Ruby.
"I wouldn't be doing it without her," he said. "I said if I did it, we'd do it together. At my age you need support and she had run a permit holder's yard in Ireland.
"She probably spends more time with the horse than she does with me and if you talk about human-equine partnership, that's one. He wouldn't be where he is now but for her."
Whether the young, switched-on team's first season is capped with Cheltenham glory, this time in Fry's name, remains to be seen. "He's not flashy and doesn't win every time on the bridle but he's workmanlike, he's honest and he gallops," Fry said.
"He wouldn't be the fastest at home but in a race he can go a high tempo for two miles-plus. He was electric schooling over hurdles on the grass recently and I couldn't be happier. We go there full of confidence."
On what we have seen of Fry so far, that confidence is unlikely to be misplaced. (© Daily Telegraph, London)