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Rock On Ruby's trainer, Harry Fry, is one of the brightest young talents in the horse racing

Updated: Sunday, 10 Mar 2013 12:48 | Comments

Harry Fry, 26, didn't expect to be training on his own until he turned 30
Harry Fry, 26, didn't expect to be training on his own until he turned 30

It is a measure of Harry Fry's precocity that he still has four years of credit remaining in his original masterplan.

"I thought if I could be training by the age of 30, it would be great," he says. To be where I am by my 26th birthday - you just have to seize the opportunity when it's there."

Taking chances is what has led to Fry's standing as Britain's youngest jumps trainer. He prepared Rock On Ruby to win last year's Champion Hurdle and has him ready to defend his crown at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

This time, of course, the gelding runs under his name rather than that of Paul Nicholls, whose Dorset satellite yard became Fry's own premises this season.

Fry owes his position to being a trusted lieutenant in a family operation.

The patrician influence of the Barber family is everywhere.

Paul Barber, the West Country cheese magnate, is Nicholls' landlord at Ditcheat, and one would not be too taken aback if he owned every tract of land lining the 25 miles from there to Seaborough, where brother Richard has dominated the point-to-point scene.

Fry started to ride out for Richard Barber while at school, won some points and wanted to be a jockey "but when I dislocated my shoulder for a fifth time, it was time to do something else".

Training was always the next objective, even if he had already enrolled in a degree in international equine and business management at the Royal Agricultural College.

Richard Barber warned him he thought he was wasting his time, and Fry had barely unpacked his bags before he decided he agreed and immediately took up a position as Nicholls' pupil assistant.

"It's all down to Richard that I'm here," he says. "My parents were on holiday in Africa at the time. A couple of conversations with them on a satellite phone later and I was off to start with Paul."

He spent four years learning from Nicholls through the golden generation of Kauto Star, Denman and Master Minded, before being offered his chance at Seaborough, to supervise Barber's pointers and a few of Nicholls' horses.

The Dorset hamlet, close to where Fry grew up, has mushroomed as a training centre. It essentially consists of one uphill all-weather gallop, but dotted around the pot-holed lanes cut through the country south of Crewkerne are a number of customers.

Pleasant informality reigns here, as Fry's horses are interspersed with those of other hungry young guns Keiran Burke and Anthony Honeyball, and the more seasoned Bob Buckler.

Seaborough is all Rock On Ruby has ever known, as he is owned by The Festival Goers, a syndicate including a couple of Richard Barber's sons formed under a cider bus at Glastonbury.

"He came here as an unbroken four-year-old and he's certainly not the typical Champion Hurdle horse, which quite often comes off the Flat," says Fry.

"We were hopeful he'd develop into a nice horse, but I'm unbelievably lucky to have him in my first season."

Fry harbours no bitterness about perhaps not being given the full credit for last year's Champion and insists Nicholls is always just a phone call away if he wants advice.

"We slipped in under the radar that day," he recalls. "He ran a fantastic race in the Christmas Hurdle and I just told Noel (Fehily) to be positive and play 'catch me if you can'. For one dreadful moment I thought he might get swallowed up, but he ended up winning going away."

Third on his comeback at Cheltenham in December, Rock On Ruby then won the Doncaster race marred by the fatal fall of Darlan.

"You can only commiserate those involved with Darlan," Fry says. "We didn't want to win that way - if we weren't the best on the day, we wouldn't want to have won."

Not that confidence is diminished.

"I'm not feeling the pressure yet. Maybe I will on the day, but you've got to enjoy it, as we're going there with as good a chance as anyone in the blue riband of hurdling."

The bright red pick-up Fry uses to get to the gallops is rather incongruous with his more serious character, and he admits to spending more time in the office at Manor Farm than with his girlfriend Ciara O'Connor at their adjoining flat.

The pair even met via a CV O'Connor sent when applying for a job at the stables and she doubles up as assistant and work-rider.

"The job does become almost an obsession - you have to live, breathe and sleep horses," he admits. "I just hope I can keep progressing."

Aside from Rock On Ruby, who will sport blinkers for the first time in the big race, the tall and bespectacled trainer has already excelled with many others from the 20-odd horses in his yard and claimed a notable first major victory through Opening Batsman in the Racing Plus Chase.

It seems that while Harry Fry knows the right things to say, he can do them, too.

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