DOWN ROYAL'S showcase two-day fixture gets under way with a decent spread that is likely to take place on ground just on the slow side of good this afternoon.
Given how some smart horses have recently endured gruelling early season races on desperately heavy going, that is a welcome development. Monksland is the star name on duty in the €50,000 Grade Two WKD Hurdle.
In three domestic starts last term, Noel Meade's five-year-old won a bumper and two hurdles, accounting for the classy pair Lyreen Legend and Dedigout in a Grade Two at Naas in January.
On his only subsequent outing at Cheltenham, when the run of the race went against him, he finished an excellent third to Simonsig. Thus, notwithstanding that the two-mile trip might be short of his optimum, it will be a surprise if Monksland doesn't oblige here under Paul Carberry.
Dot Love's fine mare Shadow Eile is among the selection's five rivals, though John Kenny's Miley Shah could prove the main danger, having crushed Trifolium from the front last time.
Missunited is another popular performer in the Grade Three Lough Construction Ltd Mares' Novice Hurdle.
Three times a bumper winner for the shrewd Mick Winters last term, the daughter of Golan won three Flat races on the spin prior to finishing second in last month's Cesarewitch, and is so far unbeaten in two hurdling starts.
On the most recent of those at Galway in September, she readily accounted for Zuzka, form that reads well now in light of Willie Mullins' mare's subsequent 11-length romp at this level at Limerick. If Missunited turns up in that sort of shape now, Bryan Cooper should have little trouble outmanoeuvring Top Madam.
The Tralee-born rider -- enjoying a real purple patch at the moment -- is also taken to land the nap on Yes Way Hosay in the Allianz Maiden Hurdle. Gordon Elliott's Gigginstown Stud-owned Bonisland, successful in a Roscommon bumper that has been tastily franked by the runner-up Thunder And Roses' facile Naas triumph, is a genuine threat.
However, the Richard Wilson-trained Yes Way Hosay, fifth in the Cheltenham bumper, was a touch unfortunate to be collared by the useful Digeanta on his jumping bow at Gowran. He steps up in trip now, and that should be to his advantage.
In the Porter & Co Beginners' Chase, Benefficient, the only Grade One winner in attendance, can score for Tony Martin and Paul Townend, while Eastern Rules is the pick at Dundalk.
A runner-up on just its second start of the year, Mick Halford's charge has the assistance of top claimer Marc Monaghan in the 10-furlong handicap.