European challengers among cosmopolitan entry for Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase

Raiders from Ireland, France and the Czech Republic feature among a strong European contingent for the £35,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase (2.05pm), one of the highlights of day one of The International at Cheltenham, Friday, December 9.

The 3m 6f contest, which reverts back to a handicap this year having been run as a conditions race last season, is the final leg of the Crystal Cup European Cross Country Challenge.

Patrice Quinton currently heads the trainer standings for the Crystal Cup and the French handler could be doubly-represented in the finale of the 10-race series by Martalin, a Grade Two scorer at Merano, Italy, in September, 2015, and Gallo’s Star. The Czech Republic are set to be represented by Delight My Fire, a six-year-old mare trained by Radim Bodlak.

No fewer than 13 of the 16 entries are trained outside of the UK including Josies Orders (Enda Bolger IRE) and Bless The Wings (Gordon Elliott IRE), who were first and second in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at The Festival in March.

A quartet of contenders from the Co Limerick stable of Enda Bolger also includes Cantlow, a winner over the cross country course at Punchestown on November 19, while Ireland’s champion jump trainer Willie Mullins has entered recent G2 Clonmel Oil Chase victor Alelchi Inois and dual G1-winning chaser Boston Bob. Last season’s Grand National fifth Goonyella (Jim Dreaper IRE) could also head across the Irish Sea.

Ballyboker Bridge and Mtada Supreme were second and fourth behind Cantlow at Punchestown and the Peter Maher-trained pair also ran in the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at The International last year, finishing third and seventh respectively.

Both horses have been successful in cross country races at Punchestown, with Ballyboker Bridge gaining a pair of victories at the course including a decisive win over Cantlow in January and Mtada Supreme beating Quantitativeeasing at the Punchestown Festival in April.

Co Kildare-based Maher, who saddled Big Shu to win the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at The Festival in 2013, commented today: “I am hoping to bring over Ballyboker Bridge and Mtada Supreme to Cheltenham next week, providing the ground is not too quick.

“Ballyboker Bridge was sixth on his first start last season, then finished third in this race before winning at Punchestown. He had a wind operation over the summer and was second on his seasonal return, so there has been a bit of an improvement and he seems to be finishing his races out better.

“After seeing how well he stayed on last time, I wanted to send him to Cheltenham, especially with the race being a handicap this time.

“Mtada Supreme wasn’t fit enough when he ran at Cheltenham last year. He has bad wind and needs plenty of work, but his joints get sore easily. He has won around Tinahely, which is a big hill track much like Cheltenham, a few times in point-to-points and I know he stays.

“He beat the La Touche Cup winner, Quantitativeeasing, last season and he should be in the money next week because he jumps and gallops. I wouldn’t be worried if he is out of the handicap as he is a good cross-country horse and can hold his own.”

The home challenge includes G2 188Bet Monet’s Garden Old Roan Handicap Chase victor Third Intention (Colin Tizzard), cross country specialist Any Currency (Martin Keighley) and Bertie Boru (Philip Hobbs)

Friday’s most valuable contest is the £45,000 G3 Unicoin Group Handicap Chase (1.30pm)over three and a quarter miles. A total of 27 entries features recent Hennessy Gold Cup fourth Hadrian’s Approach (Nicky Henderson), the 2015 G1 RSA Chase runner-up Southfield Theatre (Paul Nicholls) and Sausalito Sunrise (Philip Hobbs), a G3 handicap chase winner at Cheltenham last season.

Racing starts at 12.20pm with the £25,000 Jockey Club Ownership Syndicate Novices’ Chase over an extended three miles and a furlong, which has 13 entries including One Track Mind (Warren Greatrex), a G1 winner over hurdles, and Emerging Force (Harry Whittington) who is unbeaten in two chase appearances.

The 2014 Cleeve Hurdle winner Knockara Beau (George Charlton) and Anteros (Sophie Leech), who captured the Listed Regulatory Finance Solutions Handicap Hurdle at The Open last month, are among 23 entries for the three-mile £22,000 Citipost Handicap Hurdle (2.40pm).

A seven-race card concludes with the £12,000 Catesby Handicap Hurdle (3.15pm, 28 entries), which could feature Delight My Fire’s stable-companion Taurito, and the £12,000 British Stallion Studs EBF “National Hunt” Novices Hurdle (3.45pm, 22 entries), both over two miles and a furlong.

Highlights on day two of The International, Saturday, December 10, include the G2 £130,000 International Hurdle (3pm), a leading trial for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at The Festival in March, and the £100,000 G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup (1.50pm).

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