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Horse racing: Fry plans to take Express route to Ayr success

It was Benjamin Disraeli who was reputed to have said that "there are three kinds of lies:

Harry Fry has learned to keep things simple     Photograph: Getty
Harry Fry has learned to keep things simple Photograph: Getty

lies, damned lies, and statistics". However many punters now rely on statistics and the ones for Mendip Express have made him ante-post favourite for the Coral Scottish Grand National at Ayr on Saturday.

Mendip Express has won three of his four starts over fences and that stat simply emphasises the impact Harry Fry has made in his brief training career.

A 28% strike-rate in his rookie season left him at a fork in the road with a choice between "one-season wonder" and "follow that" which is precisely what he did with a 33% record for this campaign which rises to 46% when confined to his runners over fences.

Little wonder that Fry is regarded as the next big name in the training ranks and, in his case, size did play a part in his career. His brief period as a point-to-point jockey, which brought 12 winners, came to a halt by growing pains or, rather growing and pain. By the time Fry had dislocated his shoulder for a fifth time the head that sat above it was located some six feet away from his feet.

What was located inside that head told him that training was the logical step and he spent four years as a pupil assistant with Paul Nicholls at his main yard at Manor Farm in the Somerset village of Ditcheat, before running the trainer's satellite base at nearby Seaborough with his fiancée Ciara O'Connor.

It was from there that Fry was responsible for a string that included Rock On Ruby, who won the 2012 Champion Hurdle in the name of Nicholls but under the watchful eye of Fry who took over the full running of the yard seven months later, swapping the safety of receiving a monthly salary cheque for writing another one for the rent.

That rent cheque is made out to Richard Barber, one of the country's leading point-to-point trainers, for whom Fry first worked as a teenager during school holidays. It was with Barber that Mendip Express started out in points before one run over hurdles for Nicholls in which he fell.

A return to the pointing arena brought six successive wins before the horse was sent to Fry for another crack at the professional game, this time over fences. Novice chase wins at Bangor and Wetherby were followed up by victory in a valuable handicap chase at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.

Mendip Express showed plenty of resolution as he ploughed through the mud but could not do the same again at Newbury the following month when a well-beaten third behind Smad Place and Sam Winner. That form does not look so bad when viewed through the prism of the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when Smad Place finished second with Sam Winner fifth, but Fry had already decided to give the meeting a miss with Mendip Express.

"He just got stuck in the mud at Newbury and horses can only take so many runs in those kind of conditions, so we've given him a good break since then," Fry said. "He ran better in point-to-to-points on better ground so we've targeted the Scottish National because Ayr is left-handed, and he has to go left-handed. The way he won at Cheltenham it looked like the further he went the better. You never really know until you try but we're confident he'll see out the trip.

"Also novices have a good record in the race because, hopefully, they're still progressing and the handicapper hasn't got a guide on them yet."

Anyone trying to find what has guided Fry through his flying start would be disappointed if thinking that he has found some magic formula.

"What I've learned more than anything is to try to keep things simple," he said. "Keep the horses fit and well and then find the right races for them. That's the plan anyway."

The statistics say the plan is working.

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