Brace yourself for a surprise. What you think you know about Harry Fry is likely far from the reality. A towering physique and bass voice bestow an aura of calm authority on the bespectacled 36-year-old trainer. They seem to support the notion that he is the archetypal Mr Sensible, a head-boy type never remotely threatened with detention who is thoroughly measured in his response to everything life throws at him.
Yet, according to Fry, that is not an image his wife Ciara would recognise. Quite the opposite, in fact.
While he appears stoic when one of his horses is beaten in a close finish, stiff upper lip never perceptibly trembling, it is only because he can maintain the countenance of the perfect poker player. Inside he is churning with frustration.
“It may look like it on the surface but underneath I am not as measured as some may think – Ciara will tell you that,” Fry explains. “I am not a good loser and for me second is the worst place you can be. You are close but no cigar.”
Fry also possesses a fiercely competitive streak that would give the one that has driven his old boss Paul Nicholls to 13 trainer championships a run for its money. That plays out on two wheels as well as on four legs.
Take the time in September when after cycling to his old stable at Seaborough and meeting up with Ciara and their two children Ruby, 8, and Eiréann, 5, an invitation for a race home – bike versus car – to their new West Dorset base at Higher Crockermoor was impossible to resist.
“That was all I needed,” Fry says. “I was off on the bike and soon going downhill on this lane at 50 kilometres an hour. Then I came to two cars which were passing each other and there was no room for me. I skidded for about 20 yards and ended up over the front of the handlebars and in the hedge.
“I had to ring Ciara and ask her to pick me up. I haven’t been allowed back on the bike since!”
The responsibility of looking after two infants ensured Fry steered clear of the daredevil red runs he once relished on a turn-of-the-year skiing trip to Norway – a dislocated shoulder was an injury once sustained on the piste – and he admits that “it was probably to my benefit that I didn’t build up too much speed” as the family group stuck to the cross-country routes and gentler gradients.
One steep slope Fry will continue to ascend is the one propelling his career, which is now in its 11th season, as he builds on the exciting opportunities afforded by a new purpose-built stable in Dorset.
Seaborough, only 20 minutes away, was the perfect starting point for Fry, first working under the wing of the late Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer Richard Barber and then as assistant to Nicholls. It was there that Fry, managing Nicholls’ satellite yard, was credited with preparing the trainer’s 2012 Champion Hurdle victor Rock On Ruby.
Twelve months later, having taken out his own trainer’s licence at the age of 25, Fry trained Rock On Ruby to finish second to Hurricane Fly in the 2013 Champion Hurdle. The majority of over 450 career winners were trained there, including six Grade 1 wins.
But moving to 100-acre Higher Crockermoor in the summer of 2020 was coming home. It was where he was brought up. Fry’s parents live next door and the plan to flatten a cattle farm to build a dream stable has become reality.
That made his first top-level win from the yard – Metier in the 2021 Tolworth Hurdle – plus Love Envoi’s success in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last season’s Cheltenham Festival all the sweeter.
Fry had to endure a period of adjustment when the stable strike-rate, generally lodged well above 20 per cent, briefly dipped as he worked out the nuances of his new base with its three airy barns, four-and-a-half-furlong all- weather gallop, which rises 200 feet, and 400-metre round canter, made with sand from the River Severn.
Fry says: “It took the best part of 18 months to understand how to best use the gallops to get the horses to peak. Things started to click in the second half of last year and we felt confident we had worked out how to best use what we have here to get the best out of the horses.
“We have taken that into this season and hopefully carried that on. Obviously, there were days when you think ‘Christ, what are we doing wrong, why isn’t this working?’ But I am not the sort to sit around and worry about things; I like to do something about it.
“Initially when we came here, we felt that we had to hit the ground running, but looking back it was always going to take time to settle in.
“We went into this season feeling calm but not arrogant, just confident in what we are and what we are doing.
“Hopefully we can build and use that as a springboard to increase the quality and be competitive at the big meetings on the big days. We have a way to go yet but we are lucky to have some good horses which can hopefully help get us there.”
That progress is demonstrated by the numbers Fry hopes he will take to the Cheltenham Festival.
Last season Love Envoi was one of only two runners for the stable at the biggest meeting of the jumps season.
Next month, when Love Envoi will head to Prestbury Park as a leading contender for the Mares’ Hurdle, she could spearhead a squad of around half a dozen, including Boothill, winner of Kempton’s Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, in the Arkle Trophy Chase, and the unbeaten Credrojava in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.
Having a family alters perspectives and changes work/life demands, but reflecting on his first decade as a trainer, Fry hopes that while his stable’s location has changed, the operation has retained the identity for successfully focusing on quality rather than quantity.
Fry explains: “We have capacity for 80 horses with just under 70 in at present. It has never been about having 150 horses and 100-plus winners every year. I take my hat off to the guys that do that, but you are so reliant on the team around you.
“Our emphasis is more on quality and trying to be competitive at the weekends in the bigger races.
“We are very lucky with a good team of staff. The more horses you have, the thinner you spread yourself, then you don’t do as good a job for those that you have got here.
“I’d much rather keep the numbers a bit tighter and not overstretch the staff, which lets us look after the horses we have to a very high standard.
“We like to think we pay a lot of attention to detail. Having a horse in training is not cheap – we try to make sure we don’t leave any stone unturned.”
One of the biggest blows Fry suffered in his first decade with a licence came when the hugely talented Neon Wolf suffered a fatal injury on the gallops, five months after he had finished a head runner-up in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.
“That took me a long time to get over, losing a horse of that calibre,” Fry concedes. “It really flattened me. We thought that was the horse to take us to the next level and we lost him.
“It took a while to start to look forward again but that is what we are trying to find – horses of that calibre.”
Helping Fry to do exactly that is respected bloodstock agent Kevin Ross and his wife Anna. The trainer realised that equine recruitment was the biggest challenge, having reached a point when his older horses outnumbered the emerging younger talent.
“There are lots of people out there looking for good horses and people with some big budgets,” Fry says. “Initially Ciara and I were trying to do it all ourselves, but you can’t train horses and be at all the sales looking at every horse.
“We brought in Kevin and Anna to do that. They are always on the lookout, be it at point-to-points, store sales or horses- in-training sales.
“Kevin knows the sort of horses we are looking for and often the first time I see the horse is when it arrives at the yard.
“There are lots of good agents, but it’s trying to work with someone when you know you are top of their pecking order, as opposed to agents when you are left wondering how many other people they have offered the horses to.
“We felt working with Kevin and Anna we were going to get a fair shot at it. They know what we are about – and we trust them.”
Fry’s clients put the same faith in him. It is a source of pride that a Fry-trained horse tends to last.
Rock On Ruby raced until he was ten, bowing out with a win in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot. He is still at the stable aged 18, living alongside 15-year-old stablemate and four-time Grade 1 winner Unowhatimeanharry, who was 13 when he ran his last race.
“When you find them, you have to look after them,” Fry says. “Fundamentally the job is to keep the horses healthy and run them in the right races.
“It is hugely important to place them where they can be competitive rather than just running for the sake of running – if we are doing that job right, hopefully the results will follow.”
Harry and Ciara have built the foundations of their careers. Phase one has been good but they are hoping that phase two could be even better.
Thriving Love Envoi ready for Festival battle
Love Envoi’s 2022 Cheltenham Festival win was the perfect way to show that the Fry team has settled into its new base, yet there was additional pleasure from the fact the mare races for a syndicate run by Noel Fehily, the man who rode Rock On Ruby and was a valued ally when Fry launch his training career.
An impressive win at Sandown last month means Love Envoi is one of the main contenders for the Mares’ Hurdle at this season’s Festival.
Fry says: “To still have that working relationship with Noel and be good friends as well is great. He was instrumental to our success when we started out with his feedback and knowledge. He has transferred that into his syndicate business.
“We are lucky to train for some brilliant individual owners but moving forward the more we can open up the sport to everyone through syndicate ownership the better.
“Noel is showing what can be achieved by a syndicate with a success at last season’s Cheltenham Festival for ten individuals. It is not out of reach, it is possible.
“Love Envoi thrives on her racing and she will go to Warwick before going back to the Festival. I take the view [that we should] win what we can when we can. If we are then lucky enough to warrant going to those big spring festivals then great, but I’d rather earn the right to do that during the course of the season and prove we are able to go there and be competitive rather than wrapping them up in cotton wool.
“I think there is too much focus on the Cheltenham Festival and we are all probably guilty of being too blinkered about it. There are a lot of good races to be won throughout the season. We are shooting ourselves in the foot if we keep overlooking perfectly suitable races and good prize-money.”
Fry feels Love Envoi has a fighting chance against the likes of 2022 winner Marie’s Rock and 2020 Champion Hurdle heroine Epatante in the Mares’ Hurdle.
He says: “There could be multiple Grade 1 winners in this year’s Mares’ Hurdle. For all Love Envoi has won eight of her nine starts, we were runner-up in her only top-level race last spring, although that was in Ireland at the backend of a busy season.
“We have to go out and prove it but at Sandown we beat a good yardstick in Martello Sky by 13 lengths in receipt of 1lb. Martello Sky was beaten just under ten lengths by Marie’s Rock in the Mares’ Hurdle last year.
“Love Envoi needs to keep progressing but from what we have seen she is heading in the right direction. I am going there with full respect for the opposition but if she can run her race we might come out on top.”