The International gets underway at Cheltenham tomorrow, Friday, December 9, with a seven-race programme running from 12.20pm to 3.45pm.
A field of eight is set to go to post in the £35,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (2.05pm) over three miles and six furlongs. The Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase forms the final leg of the 2016 Crystal Cup Challenge.
The Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge was a new initiative developed in 2010 and rewards the most successful stable in the unique sport of Cross Country chasing. The series, which offers over 700,000 Euros in prize money, also takes in Cross Country action in France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy and the Czech Republic.
From 2017, the Crystal Cup will increase to 11 races, with the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at The Festival in March also included.
Ian Renton, Regional Director, Cheltenham & The South West, The Jockey Club, said: "Since its inception, Cheltenham has supported the Crystal Cup with the December renewal of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase - one of the 10 races that make up the series.
"I am delighted therefore that to further develop the series, The Festival renewal of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase will also form one leg of the Crystal Cup and hope that we may see a few international competitors line up in March like we have this Friday.
"Runners for France, Ireland and the Czech Republic are all set to race at Cheltenham tomorrow."
French trainer Patrice Quinton, based on the coast at Dragey in the Manche region close to Mont-Saint-Michel, is the leading trainer in the Crystal Cup for the third consecutive year. Ecurie des Dunes is the leading owner and Felix de Giles the leading jockey in the 2016 Crystal Cup.
Quinton is represented tomorrow by the Ecurie des Dunes-owned Gallo's Star (Thomas Beaurain, 10st). The six-year-old was successful at Waregem in Belgium on his penultimate start in August and disqualified for taking the wrong course last time out when first past the post at Merano, Italy, in September.
Quinton said: "It would be a dream for me to win a race at Cheltenham.
"We arrived at 1.00am last night from the ferry and Gallo's Star is in good form. He has the class of a steeplechaser, not just a cross country horse and I think he can run a nice race.
"The horse doesn't have a big weight tomorrow but the level of competition is probably going to be a bit higher than he has faced before.
"His one slight weakness is that if he is headed, he is not great at battling back but hopefully that won't happen tomorrow!"
Tomorrow's field also includes a representative from the Czech Republic in Delight My Fire (Radim Bodlak/Niklas Loven, 10st 7lb), an eight-time winner including at Pardubice in October.
Four of the eight runners hail from Ireland - top-weight Bless The Wings (Gordon Elliott/Mr Jamie Codd, 11st 12lb), who has been placed over the course three times, 2015 Midlands Grand National hero Goonyella (Jim Dreaper/Aidan Coleman, 11st 7lb), Cantlow (Enda Bolger/Mark Walsh, 11st 2lb), who won over the Cross Country course at Punchestown in November and Auvergnat (Enda Bolger/Adrian Heskin, 10st 3lb), who was third behind Cantlow in the same race.
The two British-trained representatives are dual G2 winner Third Intention (Colin Tizzard/Tom O'Brien, 11st 11lb) and Bertie Boru (Philip Hobbs/James Best, 10st).
Further information about the series can be found on the Crystal Cup website at www.crystalcup.org as on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CrystalCup), Twitter (www.twitter.com/CrystalCupRaces) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/CrystalCupRaces)
Other highlights at Cheltenham tomorrow include the £45,000 G3 £45,000 Unicoin Group Handicap Chase (1.30pm, 12 runners) and the opening £25,000 Jockey Club Ownership Syndicate Novices' Chase (12.20pm, six runners).
16 for Saturday's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup
Harry Fry is hoping Thomas Brown can continue the stable's good run of form in the £100,000 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (1.50pm, 16 runners) at Cheltenham on day two of The International, Saturday, December 10.
Final declarations were made today for the prestigious Grade Three handicap chase, which is run over two miles, four furlongs and 166 yards.
Thomas Brown (Noel Fehily, 10st 10lb) continued his excellent record first time out when beating On Tour by a length in a valuable two and a half mile handicap chase at Aintree on November 5.
The seven-year-old enjoyed a good campaign over fences last season, winning chases at Ascot and Doncaster before finishing seventh in the Listed Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase at The Festival in March.
He is already a course winner at Cheltenham, having captured a novices' hurdle on New Year's Day in 2015.
Fry said today: "Thomas Brown is in very good form. He has come out of his last success well and the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup has been the target since he pretty much crossed the line.
"He is up five pounds from Aintree but he needed to go up to guarantee getting in a race like this. He has a nice racing weight and hopefully he can be competitive.
"Any of the forecast rain that arrives will be a plus, but the ground is absolutely fine as it is."
Bouvreuil (Paul Nicholls/Barry Geraghty, 11st) has been well-backed in the build up to the race. He was fifth in the BetVictor Gold Cup last time out and has form to turn around with Village Vic, Buywise (Evan Williams/Paul Moloney, 11st 5lb) and Aso (Venetia Williams/Charlie Deutsch, 10st 12lb), who were second, third and fourth respectively.
Village Vic (Philip Hobbs/Richard Johnston, 11st 12lb) made all the running for a decisive four and a half-length victory last year and is out to become just the second two-time winner of the race alongside Poquelin (2009 & 2010).
Champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls also saddles four-year-old Frodon (Sam Twiston-Davies, 10st 10lb) who has won three of his four starts over fences. The only four-year-old to win the race, Unioniste (2012), was also trained by Nicholls.
Other high-profile contenders include King's Odyssey (Evan Williams/Daryl Jacob, 11st 1lb), a winner over the course and distance on Festival Trials Day, G1 victor Kylemore Lough (Kerry Lee/Jamie Moore, 11st 10lb) and recent Newbury scorer Roman Flight (David Dennis/Davy Russell, 10st 12lb).
The going at Cheltenham is currently:
Chase and Hurdle Course: GOOD (watered)
Cross Country Course: GOOD TO FIRM, FIRM in places (watered)