With the current Crystal Cup series approaching its seventh stage, a hot race is keenly anticipated at Cheltenham this Friday where 13 go to post in the Glenfarclas Crystal Cup Cross Country Chase over 3m 5 1/2f (6,000m).
For the first time in several years, the leaderboard in pursuit of €50,000 of bonuses is dominated by stables from outside France. With no runners from France or Czechia, this is a chance for British and Irish stables to get their name on the leaderboard. Patrick Graffin, trainer of Roi Mage, winner in Compiegne, is an absentee, looking for his route to the Randox Grand National next Spring.
Although a handicap, the appeal of the race as a Grand National trial has ensured a quality rarely seen even in handicaps of this value, with the lowest-rated horse just 142lbs (64.4 kg).
Latenightpass, touched off 1 1/4l by Foxy Jacks in the equivalent race at Cheltenham's November fixture, looks to go one better and heads the market for the Dan Skelton team. He is being aimed at Aintree's showpiece in April, as is Gesskille, who comes into this race on the back of a Listed success at Auteuil in September and a 2l beating of Percussion in the Boylesports Grand Sefton at Aintree.
Galvin also knows his way around this course, having finished runner-up to Delta Work over course and distance here in March before unseating in the National. Others were more fluent in his opening race of the season here at Cheltenham last month.
The quality of the race is amply demonstrated by the presence of Minella Indo, a winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2021, second in 2022 and a distant fourth in Downpatrick's Champion Chase last month. Ostensibly, this drop-in class should allow him to demonstrate his class, but this will be a debut over cross country obstacles.
Didero Vallis also merits a mention. Third in the November race at Cheltenham, he has run consistently well over cross country obstacles under the able guidance of Charlie Deutsch for trainer Venetia Williams, whose horses are in excellent form. Francky du Berlais, Diesel d'Allier and Volcano also renew rivalry, having been down the field a month back.
Gavin Cromwell has been serving it up to the Mullins and Elliott yards in Ireland and in successful sorties to the UK mainland this autumn. He introduces Point-to-Point winner Fameaftertheglory, a wild card running off bottom weight for the first time over cross-country fences.
And another Irish horse not to be underestimated is Vital Island, last seen in the Craon cross country, where his chance was compromised by ripping off a hind shoe which led to him pulling up. A winner of the La Touche at Punchestown last April, he is back in fine form and should put in a strong effort.