Horses trained in Ireland and France account for 15 of the 24 entries for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase, one of the highlights on day one of The International at Cheltenham, Friday, 13 December.
Run over three and three-quarter miles of Cheltenham's cross country course, the £35,000 contest is the final leg of the Crystal Cup, an 11-race series that features Europe's premier cross country chases.
Irish trainer Enda Bolger boasts a superb record in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase with seven victories and the County Limerick handler has three contenders this year including Josies Orders, a four-time cross country winner at Cheltenham.
Bolger has also entered Blue Templar and Yanworth, who won the 2016 G1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park when trained by Alan King. Yanworth made a winning cross country debut in the Risk Of Thunder Chase at Punchestown on November 17.
That race also featured Neverushacon (Jessica Harrington), the Peter Maher-trained pair of Ballyboker Bridge and Hurricane Darwin, King's Song (David Broad), Vital Island (Richard O'Keeffe) and Ard Na Carraig (Oliver McKiernan), who could all re-oppose. The 10 Irish-trained entries also includes Out Sam (Gordon Elliott), successful in last season's Cork Grand National.
Diesel D'Allier struck for France in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at The November Meeting and five French-trained entries include Easysland and Amazing Comedy, who are both based with David Cottin. Cottin currently lies second in the trainer standings for the Crystal Cup.
Easysland is seeking a fifth straight success, with the five-year-old having captured the penultimate leg of the Crystal Cup, the Listed Grand Steeple Chase-Cross-Country de Compiegne on 11 November, a race in which Amazing Comedy was fifth.
Nine-year-old Amazing Comedy has made three previous cross country appearances at Cheltenham, including a close fourth at The International last year.
Cottin, who is based at Lion-d'Angers in western France, said today: "Easyland has been a very progressive horse this year and the plan is for him to cover over and run in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase at Cheltenham on Friday.
"He has now won his last four races, with his latest success coming in a Crystal Cup race at Compiegne. He is still only a five-year-old, so we are very pleased with what he has already achieved and he is a very exciting horse for the future.
"I would be hoping that the ground is not too soft but the cross country course at Cheltenham is usually a good racing surface.
"Amazing Comedy, who has run at Cheltenham before, will also be coming over."
With six points already on the board and a potential 12 further points available, Easyland would be the winning horse in the 2019 Crystal Cup if successful on Friday. The current leader Pareto has 16 points but is not entered at Cheltenham.
Patrice Quinton, who currently heads the trainer standings for the Crystal Cup, could be doubly represented by D'Jango and Decret, while Azrou D'Ex (Augustin de Boisbrunet) has also been entered.
The home challenge is set to feature course winners Kingswell Theatre (Michael Scudamore) and Fact Of The Matter (Jamie Snowden) plus G1-winning chaser Tea For Two (Jane Williams).
For further information about the Crystal Cup, please go to https://crystalcup.org
The most valuable race on day one of The International is the £60,000 G3 BetVictor Handicap Chase (2.30pm) over three and a quarter miles, which has 14 entries including the first two home from 12 months ago - Cogry (Nigel Twiston-Davies) and Singlefarmpayment (Tom George).
West Approach (Colin Tizzard) and Rock The Kasbah (Philip Hobbs) have won the two most recent renewals of the G3 BetVictor Smartcards Handicap Chase at The November Meeting, while Double Shuffle (Tom George) was fifth in last year's G1 32Red King George VI Chase.
Subsequent G1 winner Elixir De Nutz took the opening £15,000 British Stallion Studs EBF 'National Hunt' Novices' Hurdle (12.10pm) in 2018 and 15 contenders for this year's contest include impressive bumper winners Chantry House (Nicky Henderson) and Pileon (Philip Hobbs).
Wholestone (Nigel Twiston-Davies) won the mallardjewellers.com Novices' Chase at The November Meeting and the eight-year-old, a G1 runner-up over hurdles, heads 14 entries for the £25,000 International Decorative Surfaces Novices' Chase (12.45pm).
His rivals could include the Nicky Henderson-trained duo of Pym and Diablo De Rouhet plus Stoney Mountain (Henry Daly), winner of a valuable G3 handicap hurdle at Haydock Park on his latest outing.
A seven-race card also features the £16,400 Catesby Handicap Hurdle (1.20pm, 22 entries) and the £16,400 CF Roberts Electrical + Mechanical Services Mares' Handicap Chase (1.55pm, 14 entries), where recent Fakenham winner Chequered View (Martin Keighley) could represent H R H The Princess Royal. The £22,000 CITIPOST Handicap Hurdle (3.40pm, 18 entries) is the final race on day one of The International.
The International continues on Saturday, 14 December, with another seven races headed by the £140,000 G2 Unibet International Hurdle, which is due to feature the unbeaten Pentland Hills, and the £130,000 G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
The going at Cheltenham is currently:
Good, Good to Soft in places (Chase and Hurdle)
Good to Soft, Good in places (Cross Country)
The forecast is for unsettled conditions