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Hughes: Sandra filled father's shoes in sport dominated by the few

Sandra Hughes returns with Thunder And Roses and Katie Walsh following their victory in the 2015 Irish Grand National
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Richard Hughes has described the domination of a small handful of owners in Irish jump racing as "a huge worry" as he hailed the achievements of sister Sandra following her decision to retire from the training ranks.

Hughes, who took out a trainer's licence following the death in November 2014 of her father Dessie, announced on Tuesday she had given her staff three months' notice, having concluded: "When you fall below a certain amount of numbers it's tough, and that's the problem."

That decision followed the retirement of Cheltenham Festival winner Colm Murphy, while Adrian Maguire also this year signalled his intention to stop training. Michael Hourigan and Tony Mullins have joined others speaking about the plight facing those away from the top of the sport, Mullins stating: "I've more or less been driven out of the game."

Despite winning an Irish Grand National and Grade 1 races for Gigginstown House Stud, Hughes lost the patronage of the owner, who this year declared 14 horses to run in the Fairyhouse highlight.

Sandra Hughes joins Richard Hughes and his son Harvey to celebrate the first of his jockeys' championships
Richard Hughes, who has switched to training Flat horses in Lambourn since ending his riding career, said: "Sandra did brilliantly well. I tried all my life to fill my dad's shoes and she did it straight away. She has a wealth of experience in all areas of racing, so I'm hoping she gets a good job."

Horse Racing Ireland has sought to help Irish owners and trainers by introducing a raft of measures, including the running of 20 higher-value middle-tier handicaps with an increased value of €15,000.

Also part of the initiatives are the staging of six maiden hurdles confined to horses who have run three times without finishing in the first three, and another six maiden hurdles restricted to horses purchased for less than €30,000.

"Some people have no idea how hard it is in Ireland," said Richard Hughes.

"It's a huge worry. There is total domination at the top end and there has been a massive decline elsewhere. Unless you have the support of the four leading jumps owners it can be incredibly difficult.

"I know at the top end we're beating British horses at Cheltenham, but within Ireland there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. I don't know if there is a solution but I don't think it's the big owners' fault. Without the generous support of J P McManus I'm sure many more trainers would have called it a day."

From the archives: click here for Alan Sweetman's special report on the struggle faced by smaller stables in Irish jumps racing

I know at the top end we're beating British horses at Cheltenham, but within Ireland there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed
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