Racing: Jezki and AP set standard for Down Royal Festival opening day on Friday
There are plenty of classy performers out of the 115 entered for the first session of the two-day Down Royal Festival on Friday.
The first day feature, the Grade 2 £50,000 WKD Hurdle, has attracted a star-studded line up. Apple's Jade, Footpad, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Jer's Girl, Petit Mouchoir and Thomas Hobson are the top rated sextet from the dozen engaged in a race Identity Thief, Jezki and Monksland have all won prior to major victories.
Jezki, with the great AP McCoy aboard, supplied a particular highlight when winning in 2013 and following up with Champion Hurdle success at Cheltenham.
Apple's Jade, one of the team moved from Willie Mullins to Gordon Elliott by owner Michael O'Leary, won at the Punchestown and Aintree festivals last season having finished runner-up to Ivanovich Gorbatov at Cheltenham.
Footpad fell in the Aintree event won by Apple's Jade but won his last two starts last term at Auteuil for champion trainer Mullins on his preferred soft ground.
Jer's Girl had an outstanding season for leading Irish owner JP McManus and trainer Gavin Cromwell but has been beaten by both Footpad and Apple's Jade albeit on heavy winter ground.
Petit Mouchoir is another former member of the Mullins team but now in the care of Henry de Bromhead who sent out the winner, Identity Thief, last year.
Thomas Hobson is another Mullins entry.
Mahler Ten, trained by Noel Meade for Portadown owner Robert Watson, is an interesting entry making his hurdles debut after winning a Downpatrick bumper last month.
Likewise the Mouse Morris trained and Gigginstown owned Wishmoor, purchased after winning a Kirkistown point to point in 2014 and only making his first appearance for connections when winning a Punchestown bumper in June.
The supporting feature on the opening session is the Grade 3 Lough Construction Mares Novice Hurdle and Airlie Beach - unbeaten in her five starts to date - will attempt to give Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh a hat-trick of victories in the contest following Morning Run (2014) and Listen Dear.
Willie Mullins also has Screaming Rose engaged while Rosshaven Lady could represent Joseph O'Brien.
Gordon Elliott has a choice of eight entries in the Porter & Co Beginners Chase including the McManus-owned Squouateur.
Elliott and Noel Meade dominate the concluding bumper while local owners have major contenders with Runfordave - owned by Joe and Pat Sloan, sponsors of the feature - Moulin A Vent, owned by the Hunt family from Belfast, and course winner Dixie Lee who will bid for repeat success for Draperstown owner Mrs Pat Conway.
British trainer Kim Bailey, who won the Grand National with Mr Frisk in 1990, has confirmed that The Last Samuri - runner-up in the Aintree showpiece earlier this year - will travel to Down Royal for Saturday's featured £140,000 JNWine.com Champion Chase.