The American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association had an early Christmas present of sorts for U.S. racetracks Thursday. After meeting Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee announced that five races have been elevated to grade I for their 2001 renewals, while all seven races downgraded were at the lowest level of graded status.Races hiked to grade I were the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap and San Carlos Handicap, both at Santa Anita; Jim Dandy Stakes and Forego Handicap, both at Saratoga; and the Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park. With no grade I races downgraded by the committee, there will be 101 such races in 2001, representing 21.1% of the 478 graded events scheduled for next year.As a result of the committee's action, there is a gain of four races that will be run with graded status next year, when compared with this year. The grades are based on the committee's review of 779 unrestricted U.S. stakes with a purse of at least $75,000.While the graded stakes concept was conceived as a way to quantify quality of American races in the black-type used on sales company catalog pages, it has become somewhat of a status symbol within the racing industry.The committee upgraded nine races to grade II status, with 156 (32.6% of the total graded) having that designation for 2001. The upgrades were: Explosive Bid Handicap, Fair Grounds Oaks, and New Orleans Handicap, all at Fair Grounds; Palomar Handicap and San Diego Handicap, both at Del Mar; Winstar Galaxy Stakes at Keeneland; Gallant Bloom Handicap at Belmont Park; Hawthorne Gold Cup at Hawthorne Racecourse; and the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga.With 13 races upgraded to grade III, the 221 races in this category represents 46.2% of the total grades. Upgraded to grade III were: Aegon Turf Sprint Stakes, Jefferson Cup Stakes, and Mint Julep Stakes, all at Churchill Downs; Desert Stormer Handicap, Lazaro S. Barrera Memorial Handicap, and Royal Heroine Handicap, all at Hollywood Park; Valley Stream Stakes at Aqueduct; Indiana Breeders' Cup Oaks at Hoosier Park; Endine Stakes at Delaware Park; El Conejo Handicap at Santa Anita; Kentucky Cup Turf Handicap at Kentucky Downs; William Donald Schaefer Handicap at Pimlico; and the Flash Stakes at Belmont Park.Downgraded from grade III to ungraded were: Hillsborough Handicap and California Juvenile Stakes, both at Bay Meadows; Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park; What a Pleasure Stakes at Calder Racecourse; Interborough Handicap at Aqueduct; and the Hall of Fame Breeders' Cup Handicap at Thistledown. The Finger Lakes Breeders' Cup Sprint at Finger Lakes was downgraded because it has been discontinued and the Louis R. Rowan Handicap at Santa Anita was deemed ineligible for graded status because it has not been run for two consecutive years.