The fund was cut by just £1m to €56.2m, with 80% of that fund bound for horse racing and the rest going to greyhound racing.
This is the fourth reduction to the fund in the past five years but there were fears that it would be slashed in the budget given that the Government was looking at cutting public expenditure by e€2.2bn.
“I think we’re very lucky we escaped” Hughes conceded yesterday. “The Government obviously looked at the industry and made a sensible decision.
“The industry creates a lot of employment and revenue and the Government must keep everyone working. They problem in the country right now is that there are not enough people working.
“But in horse racing, you have so many people outside of the direct involvement. You have studs, farriers, transport companies, feedstuff companies. It’s a very labour-intensive industry and thankfully the Government didn’t want to do anything that would put more of these people out of work.”
Hughes was speaking at his Osborne Lodge yard, where the Leopardstown Christmas Festival was launched.
The Curragh-based handler had many of his stable-stars on show, ranging from established operators such as Western Charmer, Black Apalachi and Vic Venturi, high-class recruit from Jessica Harrington’s string Roberto Goldback, and promising newcomers Minsk, Frisco Depot and Zerashan.
Preliminary entries for many of the top races over Christmas were also published, revealing that champion hurdler, Hurricane Fly could make his return in the Istabraq Festival Hurdle, with recent Hatton’s Grace winner Voler La Vedette a possible opponent.
Former Gold Cup hero Denman is on target to make his seasonal debut in the Lexus Chase, a race he won four years ago. The race is intended to be the 11-year-old’s sole run before the curtain is drawn on a brilliant career at Cheltenham in March. Bostons Angel, Quito De La Roque and Joncol are other interesting entries.
Recently appointed Leopardstown chief executive Pat Keogh is very optimistic about the festival and beyond, indicating that hard work can attract an increased number of punters to racecourses, even in the midst of a recession.
The improvement of facilities at the Stillorgan track continues this year, with a new weighing room, dedicated indoor and outdoor children’s facilities, restaurant and conference area among the proposed developments.
Sponsorship has been secured for each race over the impending four-day festival, while membership for 2012 is already up on 2011 figures.
“It’s a competitive market and we’ve really got to look after the customers that come,” said Keogh. “There’s a million people on our doorstep in Dublin and an awful lot of them have never been across the door at Leopardstown. So we’re going to have facilities there that when they do come, they’ll be pleased with what they see and be encouraged to come back.”