Cross country stars headline day one of The International at Cheltenham
Favourite Clan Des Obeaux heads 11 declared runners for the £120,000 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Handicap Chase (1.55pm), run over nearly two miles and a five furlongs at Cheltenham on the second day of The International, Saturday, December 16.
Clan Des Obeaux (Paul Nicholls/Harry Cobden) has top-weight of 11st 12lb following a seven-length victory on testing ground in a graduation chase at Haydock Park on November 25. No horse has carried 11st 12lb or more to victory in this race since Pendil shouldered 12st 7lb in 1973.
Paul Nicholls, who has captured the prestigious G3 handicap four times since 2009, also saddles BetVictor Gold Cup third Le Prezien (Barry Geraghty, 11st 9lb) and Romain De Senam (11st 2lb, Noel Fehily), who was fifth in the same race.
BetVictor Gold Cup winner Splash Of Ginge (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Tom Bellamy, 10st 10lb) is bidding to become just the fourth horse to win both races in the same season, following on from Pegwell Bay (1988), Senor El Betrutti (1997) and Exotic Dancer (2006).
The BetVictor Gold Cup form is also represented by the neck runner-up Starchitect (David Pipe/Tom Scudamore, 11st 5lb), fourth Ballyalton (Ian Williams/Tom O'Brien, 11st), eighth Foxtail Hill (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Jamie Bargary (3), 11st 4lb) and ninth Guitar Pete (Nicky Richards/Ryan Day (3), 10st 5lb).
The strong line-up is completed by the returning Long House Hall (Dan Skelton/Harry Skelton, 11st 2lb), who has not raced since landing the Listed Summer Plate at Market Rasen in July, 2016, course scorer King's Odyssey (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge, 10st 11lb), and in-form novice Deauville Dancer (David Dennis/Aidan Coleman, 10st 8lb).
Declared runners for the rest of the card on day two of The International, including the £130,000 Unibet International Hurdle (3.05pm), will be known shortly after 10.00am, tomorrow, Friday, December 15.
Kingswell Theatre (Michael Scudamore/Tom Scudamore, 10st 11lb), winner of last month's Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase, and 2014 Stayers' Hurdle hero More Of That (Jonjo O'Neill/Aidan Coleman, 11st 12lb) feature among nine declared runners for the £35,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (3.05pm), one of the highlights on the first day of The International at Cheltenham tomorrow, Friday December 15.
Irish handler Enda Bolger, prominent in the Cross Country sphere for many years, has course scorers Josies Orders (Mark Walsh, 11st 4lb) and Cantlow (Donal McInerney (5), 11st 1lb) among a three-strong team. Josies Orders won all three Glenfarclas-sponsored Cross Country chases at Cheltenham in the 2015/16 season, while Cantlow was successful in this race 12 months' ago. The Bolger trio is completed by My Hometown (Niall Madden, 10st).
Fellow Irish trainer Peter Maher is also no stranger to success over the Cross Country course at Cheltenham, having saddled Big Shu to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at The Festival in 2013.
Tomorrow Maher is set to rely on Mtada Supreme (Robbie Colgan, 10st 3lb), who got the better of Josies Orders by a nose last time out in the Risk Of Thunder Chase over three miles on the Cross Country course at Punchestown on November 19. The 12-year-old was in receipt of seven pounds from Josies Orders in that contest, which was a conditions race, but is set to receive 13 pounds from the same rival at Cheltenham tomorrow.
Maher, who is based in Newtown in County Kildare, said today: "Mtada Supreme has been in good form since his win at Punchestown last time.
"He has been a great servant to us and if we can run into a place at Cheltenham tomorrow I'd be happy as I think the ground might have gone against him a bit.
"Last time out, we got a run on Josies Orders and he just couldn't reel us in that day. We know that Josies Orders is a great horse and is brilliant around Cheltenham. Tomorrow's distance will also help Josies Orders as three miles is probably a bit sharp for him.
"The pull at the weights with Josies Orders gives us some hope. Mtada Supreme has a nice racing weight with 10st 3lb but the going is the key to him, as he prefers good ground. It was loose on top at Punchestown and he coped with it, so hopefully it will be similar at Cheltenham.
"Hopefully, we have a good each-way chance."
Gordon Elliott is double handed with Tiger Roll (Keith Donoghue, 11st 6lb), winner of the G2 J T McNamara National Hunt Chase at The Festival in March, and Bless The Wings (Davy Russell, 11st 2lb).
There is also French representation courtesy of Kapville (Etienne & Grégoire Leenders/Wilfrid Denuault, 10st), successful last time out at Lyon Parilly.
The Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase is the final race in the 11-strong series the Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge.
The most valuable race of tomorrow afternoon is the £45,000 Unicoin Group Handicap Chase (2.30pm, six runners) over three and a quarter miles, in which Eider Handicap Chase victor Mysteree (Michael Scudamore/Robert Dunne, 11st 2lb) clashes with Wotzizname (Harry Fry/Noel Fehily, 11st 4lb) and Robinsfirth (Colin Tizzard/Robbie Power, 11st 6lb).
Summerville Boy (Tom George/Noel Fehily), runner-up in the G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at The November Meeting, faces seven rivals in the opening British Stallion Studs EBF "National Hunt" Novices' Hurdle (12.10pm) over two miles and a furlong.
The opposition include high-class bumper performers Lalor (Richard Woollacott/Davy Russell) and Western Ryder (Warren Greatrex/Richard Johnson), plus unbeaten hurdlers Shoal Bay (Colin Tizzard/Tom Scudamore) and Spice Girl (Martin Keighley/Aidan Coleman).
Cheltenham's seven-race card on Friday, December 15, starts at 12.10pm and finishes at 3.40pm.