Dreaper pleased with Goonyella
Jim Dreaper is hoping Goonyella will enjoy his first taste of Cheltenham's cross country course on Friday ahead of a possible return for the Festival in March.
Goonyella won't be ideally suited by the ground
The nine-year-old, who was fifth in the Grand National at Aintree in April, goes for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase on the back of tackling the banks course at Punchestown last month when he was sixth to Cantlow.
Goonyella put in a careful round of jumping that day on his first try over those obstacles and Dreaper is expecting an improved effort with that experience under his belt.
"He ran in a cross-country race at Punchestown. It was the first time he'd done it and was slow and deliberate, but we're moving on to the next stage now and hoping for the best," said the County Meath handler.
"The ground won't suit him ideally but that's the way it is.
"I hope he takes to the course there. Basically they are different fences and different to the cross-country fences at Punchestown.
"If he's going to be there in March, he needs to know how to do it."
Goonyella's Punchestown conqueror, Cantlow, is among the eight runners, as is his Enda Bolger-trained stablemate Auvergnat, who finished third in that three-mile contest.
Bolger reports both horses to be in fine shape and does not expect either of them to be inconvenienced by the unseasonally quick conditions.
"Cantlow was good the last day and he'll appreciate the quick ground. He's in good form," said the County Limerick trainer.
"It's Auvergnat's first time taking on the Cheltenham fences, so we're looking forward to seeing how he acts around there.
"He stayed on well for third behind Cantlow. He's only a six-year-old and it will be interesting to see how he handles it."
Gordon Elliott's Bless The Wings, who went on to finish second in the Irish Grand National after finishing fourth in this race 12 months ago, is the fourth Irish contender.
Colin Tizzard's Third Intention and the Philip Hobbs-trained Bertie Boru are the only English runners, but there are two international challengers.
They are Delight My Fire, trained by Radim Bodlak in the Czech Republic, and Gallo's Star, trained in France by Patrice Quinton.
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.
Quinton's 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!"
The going on the cross country course was described as good to firm, firm in places on Thursday though officials are doing their utmost to ease the ground.
"We are still continuing to water the cross country course up to tea time with the aim of reducing the amount of firm if not eliminating it," said clerk of the course Simon Claisse.
The going on the normal chase and hurdle courses was described as good ahead of the two-day fixture featuring the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup on Saturday.
"We may get a little rain in the next 24 hours, but nothing significant enough to change conditions," said Claisse.
"There could be some rain on Saturday. It's timing is uncertain as is the amount. The signals are getting stronger for the rain to come after racing rather than before or during."
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