Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp has paid tribute to the departing quartet of James Milner, Roberto Firmino, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita.

All four will leave when their contracts expire next month and are guaranteed an emotional send-off at Anfield against Aston Villa.

All leave as Champions League and Premier League winners and while Firmino and Milner, who arrived in the summer of 2015 a few months before Klopp replaced Brendan Rodgers, have played a greater role, the manager insisted all four had made significant contributions.

“We spoke already with the boys earlier this week about it,” said Klopp.

“It is super-important for us and kind of super-emotional as well for different reasons because we say goodbye to, from my point of view, four Liverpool legends.

“Two of them were here when I arrived – Millie (Milner) and Bobby (Firmino) – and nothing of all the good things which happened in the last few years would have happened without them.

“Bobby, my God, how much I love the guy. It is 100 per cent deserved.

“Millie played an incredible number of games, I think I am the manager he played the most games for in his career, and probably the same for Bobby.

“My English is not good enough to really express my respect for them but that’s the same for Ox (Oxlade-Chamberlain) and Naby, for different reasons.

“Ox was unlucky in moments with bad injuries in absolutely the wrong moment. I remember the (2018 Champions League game) against Roma when he got badly injured and I had no clue how to sort that situation as he was that good and pretty much irreplaceable in that moment.

“Everyone knows we spent a lot of money on Naby and there were a lot of expectations and because of injuries in the wrong moments he couldn’t fulfil all of them but go back and look at the football he could play in his good moments.”

Milner has been heavily linked with a move to Brighton, but the futures of the other three are less clear, although they will not be short of offers.

Klopp added: “I wish them all well and hope they find a place where they are as much respected and needed as here and they find their luck again because they had a lot in the last few years.

“All four won pretty much each available trophy and we love them but it is professional football and nothing is forever.

“There is always a moment and it’s a good moment because it means one chapter will be closed and we can start writing a new one, which is good as well for them and for us.

“I will be forever thankful to them because without them nothing would’ve happened. They were super-important in all they did and that’s the farewell they deserve.”

Pep Guardiola has no plans to celebrate if Manchester City win the title without playing on Saturday and compared closing out the Premier League season to a tennis player serving for Wimbledon glory.

City are on the brink of a fifth top-flight crown in six seasons and it will be confirmed before they next play if challengers Arsenal lose to Nottingham Forest on Saturday.

Guardiola insists he is not thinking about that prospect, however, and is focusing only on beating Chelsea at the Etihad Stadium to win it on the field themselves on Sunday.

The City manager said: “I don’t think (we’ll be celebrating) because we have a game the day after and Chelsea deserve it.

“In my mind, I’d like to feel we have to win to be champions. This is what we have to think.

“We cannot control Nottingham and it doesn’t matter what happens in Nottingham. We have to do our job and win our game.

“If we can win we can celebrate in the stadium with our people and that would be the best.”

Wrapping up the title this weekend would cap a memorable week in which treble-chasing City reached the Champions League final with a stunning victory over Real Madrid on Wednesday.

Guardiola says there has been little time to celebrate that achievement as he now tries to ensure City, who trailed Arsenal by eight points last month, see out the job in the Premier League.

He said: “Of course we are satisfied to be able to play the Champions League final but it’s non-stop.

“Now is coming the most difficult thing. Tennis players say to serve to win Wimbledon is the most difficult one.

“On Sunday, the game is in our hands to win the most important competition. We’re lucky to have the chance to finish at home with our people. We have to take it.”

Guardiola knows how difficult it can be to cross the line. In April 2018 they had to put celebrations on hold after surrendering a 2-0 lead to lose to Manchester United and last season they risked losing the title to Liverpool on the final day after falling behind to Aston Villa.

Guardiola said: “I have a good memory. When we played against United to win the Premier League, 2-0 up at half-time and we lost the game.

“Against Aston Villa we were 20 minutes away from losing the Premier League at home. So the last one is the most difficult one because there are a lot of emotions and many things.

“You have to control it and be focused. We cannot be distracted right now. We will not forgive ourselves if we are distracted in something.”

Despite those reservations, recent form suggests Guardiola has brought his players to the boil at just the right stage of the season.

Such is their intensity that Guardiola and key player Kevin De Bruyne shouted at each other during the victory over Real Madrid, and the manager says he has no problems with that.

He said: “The action with Kevin, I love it. We shout at each other. I like it. I like this step from Kevin.

“Sometimes, in some games, it’s a little bit flat and I like this energy. This is what we need from him. After that he becomes the best.

“It is not absolutely personal. These things must happen to be competitive and be a good team.”

Bournemouth manager Gary O’Neil has challenged his side to continue pushing for points ahead of Saturday’s clash with Manchester United.

Despite being in the mix for relegation for most of the season, the Cherries secured Premier League survival last weekend and they now sit 14th in the table with 39 points.

Their survival bid saw them pick up some vital wins, including memorable victories against Tottenham and Liverpool.

They now face a tricky test against a United side pushing for Champions League football, but O’Neil believes the game offers a perfect opportunity for his team to respond to last weekend’s 2-0 defeat by Crystal Palace.

He told a pre-match press conference: “We’ve lost our last two games so 39 points is a good tally, but it was better two weeks ago so we’ve been stuck on it for a couple of weeks.

“We set ourselves a goal and we’ve achieved it, but does that mean that we’re just happy to just stop, park up and finish on 39 points? Definitely not.

“Last weekend was a good reminder that if you drop your level a little bit, it can look like a lot at this level; the Premier League is ruthless.

“We’re looking for a response from last weekend and Manchester United at home is a great fixture for the boys to go and show what they can do.

“We’ve got full focus on Manchester United, we’ve managed to get some good work done on preparing for what is going to be a very tough game against a good side that are still pushing hard to make sure they qualify for the Champions League.

“It’ll be a good test for us tomorrow.”

Jefferson Lerma could be involved on Saturday and is expected to wear protection after breaking his nose against Crystal Palace, while Hamed Traore is still ruled out.

O’Neil also confirmed that Antoine Semenyo has undergone surgery to a shin injury and is hoping for a “speedy recovery” ahead of pre-season.

“Antoine has had surgery so he will be out until next season,” O’Neil said.

“We’re hopeful he gets back and can have a decent little spell with the team before the season starts but it will depend on how quickly he recovers.

“Everything went well and we’re hoping he has a speedy recovery because he can be a big help again for us next season.”

Wales flanker Justin Tipuric has retired from international rugby with immediate effect.

The 93-cap Ospreys forward’s decision comes less than four months before Wales’ World Cup opener against Fiji in Bordeaux, and he was recently named in a 54-player preliminary training squad for the tournament by head coach Warren Gatland.

Tipuric, a former Wales captain, made his international debut in 2011, while he has also toured with the British and Irish Lions.

In a statement released by his agents WIN Sports Management, Tipuric said: “During the off-season I’ve had time to reflect on my playing career, and now seems the right time to step away from international rugby.

“It has been a privilege to put on the Welsh jersey and have so many great memories.

“I would like to thank all the players and coaches I’ve been fortunate enough to work with over the years, and the wonderful support I’ve received from the Welsh public.

“I am looking forward to spending more time at home and putting all my energies into playing for my home region the Ospreys.”

Irish raider Sounds Of Heaven caused a minor upset in a thrilling renewal of the Oaks Farm Stables Fillies’ Stakes at York.

A quality field of eight fillies went to post for a Listed contest better known as the Michael Seely Memorial, three of which brought unbeaten records to the table.

Silver Lady was the 2-1 favourite, having made a deep impression on her Newmarket debut, with Ascot winner Queen For You and Newbury scorer Fakhama also lining up following successful introductions.

The Jessica Harrington-trained Sounds Of Heaven had finished fourth on her first start at Gowran Park before opening her account at Leopardstown in October, and on her first outing in seven months she was never too far off the pace in the hands of Ronan Whelan.

After taking a lead from Stormy Sea for much of the one-mile journey, Sounds Of Heaven (14-1) took over with a furlong to run and stuck to her guns once challenged by both Queen For You and Silver Lady, seeing them off by a short head and a neck respectively in the hands of Ronan Whelan.

Harrington was not on the Knavesmire, but said: “That was brilliant. I fancied her going over there, we just hadn’t been able to get a run into her because of the ground. We knew she wanted nice ground so we’ve waited with her and it’s paid off.

“The race wasn’t really run to suit because they didn’t go very quick, but she was lovely and relaxed. I just said to Ronan to keep it simple and he did.

“Her form had worked out well from last year, she made her debut on soft ground but won next time on better ground and the second (Boogie Woogie) ran well in a Group One in France.

“She’s in the Irish Guineas as well as the Coronation Stakes, so we’ll just wait and see what we do.

“She’s a gorgeous filly with a lovely temperament.”

Should Sounds Of Heaven head to Royal Ascot for the Coronation Stakes, she could well renew rivalry with John and Thady Gosden’s runner-up.

“It was a big run, just the second of her life, I’m thrilled with her,” said Gosden senior.

“She got the one beaten beside her, but she didn’t see the other one.

“There’s no reason we wouldn’t go to Ascot at this stage. She’s a big girl, she’s grown a lot and developed a lot.

“She travelled beautifully, better than anything, she just didn’t win.”

Lee Johnson is hoping to remain at Hibernian “for the long haul” after coming through a roller-coaster first year as manager with his team firmly in contention to qualify for Europe.

The 41-year-old former Bristol City and Sunderland boss has the Edinburgh club fifth in the cinch Premiership, just a point off fourth place, with three games of his maiden campaign in charge remaining.

Johnson has had to deal with a dire run of injuries to key players, a major overhaul of the recruitment structure, and some patchy runs of form, as well as the death of owner Ron Gordon in February.

However, he is relishing his role at Easter Road and is eager to oversee sustained improvement in the coming years.

“I would love to be here for the long haul,” Johnson said on Friday, the first anniversary of his appointment. “I think it’s a brilliant club. The staff are fantastic, I like the dynamic at Easter Road and HTC (Hibs Training Centre).

“I feel like we’ve still got a lot to do, we’re not finished. A lot of that is finance permitting but success on the pitch brings greater finance and the great thing about this club is that there’s no money ever being taken out.

“It all replenishes and goes back into the right places for the good of the club in the long term. And I am a long-term manager. I’m not one of those that comes in as a quick firefighter and then I’m gone.

“I feel like sustained progression is very important for the long-term future of the club and that’s how I try and perform as a manager, by making the right decisions on a daily basis for the short, medium and long term.”

Asked for his reflections on his first year at Hibs, Johnson said: “There’s probably a book in there, or certainly a chapter. I think we’re progressing, I genuinely do.

“It was a more difficult job than I anticipated looking at it from afar. When you’re then in the building you see there are a lot of good people but a lot of systems and processes that needed to improve.

“We talked a lot about our recruitment (previously) but I think that’s in a good place, well funded, well organised, well structured with good personnel. Recruitment is massive.

“The facilities are great but we’ve just spent £1 million on the pitches at Easter Road and at the training ground. And we’ve got progression in terms of making the top six and scoring more goals.

“Plus, we’ve had a very difficult season in terms of having our money on the pitch and having key players available. Overall, we’ve got ourselves in a position where we can deliver a form of success if we have a good six days next week.

“We’ve got the opportunity to qualify for Europe. I’d love it to have been in third, although that’s a real long shot. Fourth isn’t unrealistic, and fifth – if you’re a betting man – has a good chance, even though there’s a lot to do. We know Celtic have got to do the fifth-place team a favour (by beating Inverness in the Scottish Cup final), therefore we need to go and try to stake a claim for fourth place.”

Hibs have been linked with Wales international midfielder Jonny Williams, who is a free agent after leaving Swindon.

“Jonny’s one that’s out of contract so would naturally come into a club our size’s consideration but at the same time there are so many factors,” said Johnson. “Every player that’s out of contract, including our own, go into that pot of potential availability, and then the player’s got to be affordable, accessible and available.”

Meanwhile, former Blackburn boss Steve Kean has left his role as Hibs’ academy director to become manager of Georgian side Torpedo Kutaisi.

Jamison Gibson-Park says Stuart Lancaster will be “dearly” missed as Leinster bid to give the former England head coach a fitting send-off by clinching European glory.

Lancaster, who has served as senior coach under Leo Cullen since 2016, will leave the Irish province at the end of the season to become director of rugby at French club Racing 92.

Leinster’s final shot at lifting silverware before the 53-year-old heads to Paris comes on Saturday evening when they take on La Rochelle in the final of the Heineken Champions Cup in Dublin.

“He’s had a profound effect on my career – and I’m probably not alone in saying that – with regards to what he’s done here at Leinster,” scrum-half Gibson-Park said of Lancaster, who will be replaced by South Africa head coach Jacques Nienaber.

“It’s been incredible really. The turnaround from the start, the consistency throughout, his mindset has just been awesome.

“The way he came in and certainly for me personally changed a lot of things in my outlook on rugby. And I think that’s across the board with the rest of the team as well.

“He’s had a pretty massive impact on me and we’ll miss him dearly. Hopefully he goes well over in Racing.”

Leinster have a chance for immediate redemption against La Rochelle – 12 months on from a painful last-gasp 24-21 loss to the French side in the 2022 final in Marseille.

Having suffered a semi-final exit to rivals Munster in the United Rugby Championship last weekend, Cullen’s men will attempt to end the campaign on a high at the Aviva Stadium ahead of a handful of notable departures.

In addition to the imminent exit of Lancaster, who contributed to Champions Cup success in 2018 and four URC titles, long-serving wing Dave Kearney and injured captain Johnny Sexton are heading towards retirement.

Asked if giving Englishman Lancaster a trophy to leave with was extra incentive, Gibson-Park said: “I don’t think he would expect us to think of it that way but obviously Stu’s moving on and a few other guys are finishing up as well.

“It’s obviously incentive but there’s a performance you have to get right before you start worrying about that stuff.

“We’ll be focused on that but sure there are some guys that deserve a pretty good send-off.”

Leinster are hoping to equal Toulouse’s record of five Champions Cup titles by exacting revenge on Ronan O’Gara’s side.

Ireland international Gibson-Park will return to the starting XV alongside a host of other star names after head coach Cullen opted to rest them for last weekend’s surprise 16-15 defeat by Munster.

“It’s finals rugby and it’s win or die,” he said. “Small margins.

“We will just be chasing a performance and that’s the most important thing for us, to try and get that right.

“Obviously it’s very tough with a team as good as they are so it’s going to be challenging but we’re looking forward to it.”

Asked if Leinster will alter their style due to the formidable size of the opposition’s pack, he added: “We won’t be changing things drastically, I don’t think.

“But you’ve got to be smart around how you attack them so we’ll see how we go.”

Oak Hill continued to provide a stiff test as the 105th US PGA Championship got back on track on Friday.

A frost delay of almost two hours meant the first round had not been completed on schedule on Thursday, with 11 groups still out on the course when play was suspended at 8.30pm local time.

American Eric Cole was one of the players involved and had reached five under par after 14 holes to find himself on top of the leaderboard.

However, when play resumed at 7am on Friday the world number 122 hit his first shot of the day into the water to the left of the sixth green to run up a double-bogey six.

Cole parred his final three holes to complete an opening 67 and share second place with Scottie Scheffler, Dustin Johnson and Corey Conners, a shot behind former US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau.

Johnson began his second round with four straight pars to remain three under, with England’s Justin Rose another stroke back.

Rose had completed an opening 69 by chipping in for birdie on the 18th on Friday morning and, after a quick turnaround, picked up another shot on the 10th, his first hole of round two.

DeChambeau was among the later starters in round two along with world number one Jon Rahm, who faced an uphill battle to make the halfway cut.

Seeking back-to-back major titles following his Masters triumph at Augusta National last month, Rahm birdied his opening hole in the first round before slumping to a six-over-par 76.

US Open champion and playing partner Matt Fitzpatrick failed to make a single birdie as he recorded the same score, but Rory McIlroy had fought back from three over par after nine holes to post a 71 despite struggling with an unspecified illness.

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen believes that “pressure is a good thing” ahead of Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup final against holders La Rochelle.

Dublin’s Aviva Stadium will be packed to its capacity of just over 50,000 as Leinster target a record-equalling fifth European title.

They were beaten by La Rochelle in last season’s final, but Cullen’s team go into battle as marginal favourites on home soil.

“Pressure is a funny thing, isn’t it?” Cullen told www.epcrugby.com.

“Everyone is nervous because they want to do their best. It is such an amazing tournament.

“We go back to the preparation during the course of the week, and you can’t fault the lads. They have prepared really well this week.

“I can’t wait to see them play and deliver something close to their best. That is all we need to do.

“Pressure is a good thing. That is what we want, we all want to be here. It is pressure, but it’s the most positive pressure you could ask for.”

Cullen has made two changes from the team that saw off semi-final opponents Toulouse.

Ireland internationals Robbie Henshaw and James Lowe return to the starting line-up, with Henshaw forging a familiar midfield partnership alongside Garry Ringrose.

La Rochelle have reached a third successive European final, and their head coach Ronan O’Gara said: “We talk all the time about stifling or stopping Leinster, but stopping La Rochelle is also a subject.

“This perception is also important. Our last defeat (in the Champions Cup) was almost two years ago.

“I am not too interested in the opponent, even if I respect him. I am focused on my team, on our path and what we are going to do on Saturday.

“We know it will be very hard, but it is possible. It will be crucial to manage stress in a venue where there will be a lot of adversity. It will be a big test.”

Nottingham Forest groundsman Ewan Hunter and Brentford’s goalkeeping coach Manu Sotelo have been banned and fined by the Football Association following their pre-match altercation in November.

Hunter and Sotelo had an argument ahead of the 2-2 Premier League draw which centred on the length of time clubs are allowed to use the penalty area during their warm-up.

The member of the groundstaff went on to the pitch to move them on, but disrupted a drill.

Bees boss Thomas Frank claimed after the match that Sotelo was injured while Hunter claimed to have his personal safety threatened.

The FA has sanctioned both men, with Hunter banned from the City Ground for two matches, while Sotelu must serve a one-match touchline ban.

A statement from the governing body read: “Nottingham Forest’s grounds manager and Brentford’s goalkeeping coach have been suspended and fined following an incident that happened before their game on Saturday 5 November 2022 in the Premier League.

“Ewan Hunter denied that his behaviour was improper and/or violent, but an independent Regulatory Commission found the charge against him to be proven, and it imposed a two-match stadium ban and £700 fine.

“Manu Sotelo accepted that his behaviour was improper, and the independent Regulatory Commission imposed a one-match touchline ban and £2,000 fine.”

Karl Burke will target Royal Ascot with both Got To Love A Grey and Dorothy Lawrence after the stablemates finished first and second in the Clipper EBF Marygate Fillies’ Stakes at York.

The Middleham Park Racing-owned Got To Love A Grey was a visually impressive six-length winner when a warm order for her racecourse debut at Nottingham last month and was sent off at 5-2 to follow up in Listed company on the Knavesmire under Sam James.

Dorothy Lawrence, second to reopposing 13-8 favourite Persian Dreamer at Newmarket last month, was a much bigger price at 9-1 but raised her game to run an excellent race in defeat.

Got To Love A Grey raced on the speed from the start over the straight five furlongs and while Dorothy Lawrence moved into her slipstream looking a huge threat, the leader kept finding for pressure and was half a length to the good passing the post.

Gaiden came from further back to finish third, with Persian Dreamer only fourth.

Burke said: “It’s been a frustrating week, we’ve had about five seconds and picked up nearly £100,000 I think in two days, all without having a winner. To get the winner was needed.

“I thought the second filly would be the winner, she’s very quick and she travelled very strong there and didn’t quite see it out as well as the winner. Take nothing away from the winner though, she’s so honest and such a lovely filly.

“Sam said she was first in the stalls and they were all messing about for ages. She just jumped out and away she goes.”

When asked about plans, the trainer added: “The Queen Mary or the Albany (for the winner), she’s shown us on a fast track that she’s quick enough and you need to stay well at Ascot so it probably makes sense to go for the Queen Mary.

“I’d be quite happy to send her (Dorothy Lawrence) there as well, Ryan (Moore) thought we should give her a chance so we’ll see.

“I think that’s our eighth or ninth two-year-old winner so we’ve got off to a great start and there’s some lovely Dubawis and Frankels and Galileos to come later on, there’s a nice team.”

The winning rider said: “I’m just pleased to be on her. I won on her at Nottingham, but the connections didn’t have to leave me on her.

“I thought the ground might be on the quick side as she seemed to like the soft at Nottingham, but she’s very versatile.

“I think she’ll get six furlongs. The speed I was able to travel at up in class, I wouldn’t be averse to going up in trip, but Karl knows more than I do. She wasn’t stopping at the line.”

Southampton manager Ruben Selles has said he will only stay at the club if he is appointed the permanent manager.

Selles has been in charge since Nathan Jones’ sacking in February but could not steer the Saints away from relegation from the Premier League.

The Spaniard, who was appointed until the end of the season, is keen to get the role on the permanent basis and lead them in the Championship next term, but does not want to work under a new manager.

“The first question of if I want to stay as a coach if I am not the manager…absolutely not,” he said ahead of Sunday’s visit to Brighton.

“If someone has a doubt you can put it there and if they don’t know through me they can read it in the media. I will try to make my career as a manager, here if it is possible and if not here then in another place.

“I don’t think it’s insensitive, it is what it is, if I don’t want people to talk about it I should win more football matches, I know the business, that’s how it is.

“We will talk with the club and make a review after the Liverpool game and that is what I am expecting. Then if the club wants to make any movement with or without me I expect them to communicate with me before being made public.”

The futures of a host of players are in doubt following relegation, with James Ward-Prowse and Kyle Walker-Peters among those most likely to leave in the summer.

Selles says that player departures are inevitable.

“It cannot be avoided that some of the players will be out of the club, especially with the conditions of relegation,” he added.

“You always know that in the transfer market the boys are going to be in and out, it can happen that some of the boys won’t be here next season. Some of those won’t be here, some of them will be, that’s football.”

Saints hope to have striker Che Adams back for the trip along the south coast but defenders Armel Bella-Kotchap (hamstring), Romain Perraud (ankle), Juan
Larios (thigh) and Mohammed Salisu (groin) will not play again this season.

Roy Hodgson feels Wilfried Zaha is unlikely to play again for Crystal Palace this season because of injury, but hopes he will opt to stay on at the club.

The 30-year-old suffered a hamstring problem during last week’s win over Bournemouth and is expected to miss both the trip to Fulham and the final match of the campaign against Nottingham Forest at Selhurst Park.

The Ivory Coast international is out of contract in the summer, but Palace are keen for their talisman forward to agree a new deal, reported to be worth around £200,000 a week.

“The injury seems to be more serious than we would like it to be, so I fear he is not likely to play again this season – but we can only hope,” said Hodgson, whose own future at Selhurst Park remains uncertain past the end of his current interim spell.

“There are so many different grades (of injury), it is a proper strain and if it doesn’t clear up within two weeks, will take longer than that, but it won’t put his long-term future at risk at all.”

Zaha came through the Palace youth ranks and is in his second spell at the club after returning from a move to Manchester United in 2014.

The likes of Arsenal and Marseille are said to be monitoring the situation, but Hodgson hopes Palace will be able to keep him in south London.

“The club has had conversations with him (over a new contract) and those conversations will continue,” Hodgson said.

“I have no idea what the outcome will be, or how advanced they are in one direction or the other.

“All I can hope for as a Palace fan is you will be able to see him playing for Crystal Palace after this season, but I really couldn’t give you an insight or update.”

Hodgson told a press conference: “It is a good club, we have a good team which is getting stronger.

“The potential is big and they can hope next season to do better than we have been able to do this season, so all of those are very good reasons for wanting to stay.

“He has already left a big legacy, his performances over the years, coming through the ranks.

“It is more of a question of how he sees his future and where he like that future to be.”

Hodgson returned for a second spell at Selhurst Park in March following the departure of Patrick Vieira and has overseen five wins to help secure their Premier League status again.

The 75-year-old former England boss remains open to the next chapter of his lengthy coaching career.

“The future will take care of itself and I am happy to let it do so,” he said.

Midfielder Jeffrey Schlupp will not be involved at Fulham as he deals with a personal matter.

Hodgson is looking forward to returning to another of his former clubs, having helped take Fulham to the 2010 Europa League final before leaving to join Liverpool.

“I have been back (to Craven Cottage) a couple of times and have received some sort of warm welcome,” he said.

“It has always been a pleasure to attend a game there and a lot of people that I have worked with are still there.”

Hodgson added: “I have a lot of respect for (Fulham boss) Marco Silva and the way he has worked this year to produce such a good team.

“We will have to be at our best if we are going to achieve what we want with a result from the game.”

William Haggas concedes a mile is probably not My Prospero’s optimum trip as he returns to action in Saturday’s Al Shaqab Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.

Tom Marquand’s mount has won three of his six starts, including the Group Two Prix Eugene Adam at Saint-Cloud in July.

However, he has been twice unfortunate not to break his top-class duck, having been beaten a neck in the St James’s Palace over a mile at Royal Ascot and then on his return to the same track when a half-length third behind Bay Bridge in the 10-furlong Champion Stakes in October.

Haggas is convinced that while a Group One will fall his way sooner rather than later, it may not come at the eight-furlong trip he tackles this weekend, and his return to action will determine his Royal Ascot target next month.

“I hope he’s got a big season ahead of him,” said Haggas, who was triumphant 12 months ago with the magnificent Baaeed.

“I wanted very much to run him in the Paradise Stakes at Ascot, but his scope wasn’t very good.

“The reason I wanted to run there was to see if he was quick enough for the Queen Anne, or the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. I’m pretty sure he’s Prince of Wales’s.

“So, having missed that, we are then a bit on the back foot, and it was either this or the Prix d’Ispahan (May 29), and I thought the d’Ispahan was a bit too close to Ascot for his first run, so we’re coming here.

“I’m pretty sure a mile is not his best trip, but he’s fresh and well and I think he’ll run a nice race.

“He is a good horse, but I think he’s more of a 10-furlong horse and I think he’ll end up in the Prince of Wales’s, but I think he deserves a crack at a Group One anyway.

“I don’t see the point in going for a lesser race at this stage now. The Paradise was right, but that didn’t happen, so there we go.”

Laurel was a late-maturing three-year-old, who did not race until July last year.

The John and Thady Gosden-trained daughter of Kingman looked a high-class filly in the making when she won two novice races over a mile before being beaten narrowly by Fonteyn in the Group One Sun Chariot on her third and final start.

She opened her four-year-old campaign with an easy Listed success on the all-weather at Kempton and as the only filly in the 13-strong line-up receives a 3lb allowance.

Barry Mahon, racing manager for owner Juddmonte, added: “Laurel is very unexposed. It’s a big jump up again into Group One company and taking on colts, but John and Thady are happy with her and it looked a nice fit for her on a nice track with good ground.

“Last year we threw her in the deep end after two easy wins and it looked for a minute like she was going to pull it off in big style.

“That day there was a little bit of bias towards the stands’ side and I think a combination of greenness and the other horse just getting a nice run up the rail saw her just get run out of it late on.

“Her comeback win at Kempton was good and blew away the cobwebs, and hopefully that will set her up to run a good race in this. She’s training nicely so we’re hopeful of a nice run.”

In a deep and open Lockinge, Jim Crowley will sport the same Shadwell silks the brilliant Baaeed carried to success.

He rides Mutasaabeq for Charlie Hills, whom he partnered to defeat Irish Guineas winner Native Trail on his return in the bet365 Mile at Newmarket earlier this month.

Shadwell’s racing manager Angus Gold said: “It was a nice performance last time. I was obviously really pleased with him and he did it under a penalty.

“Charlie has been really pleased with the way he has come out of the race and he’s looking fantastic.

“He has a good record at Newmarket, but there’s no obvious reason why he shouldn’t be just as effective at Newbury.

“The difference with him is that he appears to have matured a bit. On the evidence of that one run, his behaviour was much better and he appears to be a more relaxed horse.

“I don’t think Charlie feels he needs blinkers, as he never wears them at home, but they might help him concentrate a bit more. I don’t think he’d be afraid to take them off him as time goes by.

“Let’s hope he turns up in the same sort of form as he did at Newmarket, as it will take a good one to beat him.”

Last season’s Prix Jacques le Marois runner-up Light Infantry has three lengths to make up on Mutasaabeq on that run at Newmarket.

Trainer David Simcock said: “It was a satisfactory return. We got a bit of freshness out of him and we’re looking forward to Saturday.

“He’s proven he’s a Group One performer. He’s rated 119 and he’s a very decent horse. It is very open Lockinge – the betting suggests that – and I should think everybody thinks they’ve got a little shout, so it just shows how open it is.”

Ed Crisford, who co-trains Jadoomi with his father, Simon, is hoping the recent spell of dry weather breaks in time.

A Group Two winner at Goodwood and Leopardstown last season, he was last seen when a close-up third in the QEII at Ascot in October.

He said: “He’s in great order and we’re looking forward to it. We don’t want the ground to dry out too much for him, but he’s in really good form and I expect a big run from him. The way he’s training, I’m hopeful and there could be more to come from him, I’m sure.”

The Lockinge is one of the few big domestic races to have so far eluded Charlie Appleby, but in dual Breeders’ Cup hero Modern Games he has an obvious chance.

“Hopefully, this will be the opportunity for Modern Games to win a Group One in the UK,” the Moulton Paddocks trainer told the Godolphin website.

“We know that he is a crack miler and he goes here with the benefit of a run under his belt. Conditions at Newbury should suit, especially with the drying ground, and he is going to be a big player.”

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