The £100,000 Grade Three Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup (2.30pm) is one of the highlights on an exciting seven-race card at Cheltenham this Saturday, 15 December, the second day of The International and has attracted a maximum field of 17 including Unioniste, who is prominent in the betting.
The two mile and five furlong handicap chase is being contested by Alan King's Walkon, who will be bidding to go one better than in last month's Paddy Power Gold Cup when he came home seven lengths behind Al Ferof.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls will saddle Cristal Bonus, who won a Grade Two at Down Royal on his seasonal reappearance in November and is the mount of Ruby Walsh, while the champion trainer is also responsible for Unioniste who will be ridden by 5lb-claiming conditional jockey Harry Derham.
Notus De La Tour, a high-class novice chaser last season, will be making his seasonal reappearance for David Pipe, while Nicky Henderson has two contenders in last year's winner Quantitativeeasing and Paddy Power Gold Cup third Nadiya De La Vega, who will be partnered by champion jockey AP McCoy.
Local handler Nigel Twiston-Davies has two representatives headed by Astracad, who won the Jenny Mould Memorial Handicap Chase at The International last year. The six-year-old continued his good record around Cheltenham when finishing fourth in the paddypower.com Handicap Chase over two miles at The Open on his seasonal debut in November.
Twiston-Davies said: "Astracad has been in brilliant form since his run at The Open and I think he has come on a bit for that run.
"The extra half mile in the Paul Stewart IronSpine Charity Challenge Gold Cup will definitely help him and I don't think soft ground will be a problem either."
Astracad is the mount of Sam Twiston-Davies, while 3lb claimer Adam Wedge partners Have You Seen Me, who has been off the track since finishing second over the course and distance in a novices' handicap chase at Cheltenham in April, 2011.
Twiston-Davies added: "Have You Seen Me is down there at the bottom of the weights and he is also in good form. It is his first run for a while but hopefully I have him fit enough and he should run a good race."
Other notable contenders include Philip Hobbs' top-weight Wishfull Thinking, who bounced back to his best with an easy win in the Shloer Chase at The Open in November.
The race is sponsored by the Stewart Family, headed by Andy Stewart, the well-known businessman and racehorse owner, most famously represented by Big Buck's, the best long distance hurdler of all time. The family also sponsored the race to raise the profile of Spinal Research last year. One of Andy's sons, Paul, suffered a severe spinal injury in a snowboarding accident in December 2008, and was paralysed from the waist down. He was initially told by doctors that he would never walk again. Following his outstanding progress, Paul will tell his story backwards next year in a remarkable challenge next year that will involves him tracing his steps back from Stoke Mandeville Hospital, where he spent six months, to the 200ft cliff he fell from adding in a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile cycle ride and a marathon.