The International gets underway at Cheltenham tomorrow, Friday, 13 December, with a tremendous seven-race programme running from 12.10pm to 3.40pm at the Home of Jump Racing.
A maximum field of 16 will contest the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (3.05pm), the second of three cross country chases at Cheltenham through the season. Staged over three and three-quarter miles, the £35,000 contest is the final leg of the Crystal Cup, an 11-race series that features Europe's premier cross country chases.
The 16 runners include representatives from France and Ireland, as well as the UK. Heading the French-trained challenge is the exciting Easysland (David Cottin/Jonathan Plouganou), winner of his last four starts. Easysland's most recent success came when taking a leg of the Crystal Cup at Compiegne on 11 November. The five-year-old will be joined by his stable companion Amazing Comedy (James Reveley), who has made three previous appearances at Cheltenham.
Fellow French handler Patrice Quinton currently heads the trainer standings for the Crystal Cup and will be represented tomorrow by bottom-weight Decret (Jordan Duchene). The six-year-old will be making his first appearance for Quinton tomorrow and is also running in a cross country contest for the first time. Previously trained by Francois Nicolle, Decret is a three-time chase winner, most recently at Auteuil in June, 2018.
Quinton, who is based at Dragey-Ronthon in Normandy, said today: "We bought a share in Decret specially to bring him here to run at Cheltenham.
"I love coming here, and it's a great challenge. This is my sixth year that I have made the journey over.
"Decret joined me a month and a half ago. He has class as he has won at Auteuil. He jumps well and should enjoy going over cross-country fences for the first time."
The fourth French-trained runner is Azrou d'Ex (Augustin de Boisbrunet/David Noonan), who landed a cross country chase on his latest appearance at Fontainebleau on 26 November.
The seven-strong Irish-trained challenge is topped by Cheltenham cross country specialist Josies Orders (Enda Bolger/ Donal McInerney 3), owned by J P McManus and successful four times over the course including in this contest in 2015. The McManus-Bolger combination is also represented by Yanworth (Mark Walsh), a dual G1-winning hurdler and successful on his cross country debut at Punchestown on 17 November, and Blue Templar (Miss Aine O'Connor 5), who scored twice over the banks course at Punchestown in the space of five days in the spring.
The British challengers include the 2018 scorer Fact Of The Matter (Jamie Snowden/Gavin Sheehan) and Rolling Dylan (Philip Hobbs/Micheal Nolan), a good fourth in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at The November Meeting after losing a shoe.
Tomorrow's most valuable contest is the £60,000 G3 BetVictor Handicap Chase (2.30pm, 12 runners) over three and a quarter miles.
Top-weight West Approach (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power) is the 7/2 favourite with sponsor BetVictor. The nine-year-old scored over a furlong and a half further in the G3 BetVictor Smartcards Handicap Chase at The November Meeting before unseating his rider in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury later in the month. The first two horses home from the 2018 running of this contest line up again - Cogry (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies) and Singlefarmpayment (Tom George/Jonathan Burke).
The lightly-raced Dandy Dan (Kim Bailey/David Bass) was a progressive performer last season when winning three novices' chases and finished the eight-length runner-up to Mysteree on his first start of the current campaign in a limited handicap chase at Kelso on 26 October.
Andoversford-based Bailey said today: "Dandy Dan had a school this week and goes to Cheltenham on Friday.
"I was slightly disappointed when he was beaten on his reappearance at Kelso, but he was well-beaten by the winner and it looked like a good race.
"The ground will be fine for him and this looks a good prize to aim for."
BetVictor Handicap Chase, BetVictor bet: 7/2 West Approach; 5/1 Cogry; 6/1 Dandy Dan, Singlefarmpayment; 7/1 Onefortheroadtom; 15/2 Rock The Kasbah; 11/1 Impulsive Star; 14/1 Treackle Tart, Beau Du Brizais; 20/1 Pickamix; 25/1 Cobra De Mai, What A Moment
HRH The Princess Royal is represented as an owner in the £16,400 CF Roberts Electrical & Mechanical Services Mares' Handicap Chase (1.55pm, six runners, 2m 4f 127y) by Chequered View (Martin Keighley/Richard Johnson), an impressive winner on two of her latest three outings.
An intriguing contest is the £25,000 International Decorative Surfaces Novices' Chase (12.45pm, five runners, 3m 1f 56y). Imperial Aura (Kim Bailey/David Bass) and Pym (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville) were both successful last time out while Stoney Mountain (Henry Daly/Richard Johnson) will be making his chasing debut having landed the valuable G3 Betfair Best Odds On ITV Races Stayers' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park on 23 November.
Action gets underway with the £15,000 British EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle (12.10pm, eight runners, 2m 179y) and also includes the £16,400 Catesby Handicap Hurdle (1.20pm, 14 runners) and the concluding £22,000 Citipost Handicap Hurdle (3.40pm, 12 runners, 2m 7f 213y).
The going at Cheltenham is currently:
Good to Soft, Good in places (Chase and Hurdle Course)
Good to Soft, Soft in places (Cross Country Course)
Conditions are forecast to be unsettled, with up to 13 millimetres of rain before racing on Friday predicted. Friday is expected to be mostly dry with a few showers.