Papa Clem won the 2009 Arkansas Derby.

Papa Clem won the 2009 Arkansas Derby.

Coady Photography

Arkansas Derby Among Three New Grade I Stakes

There are three new grade I stakes for 2010, including the Arkansas Derby.

The Arkansas Derby, a major Triple Crown prep at Oaklawn Park, is one of three stakes upgraded to grade I status by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

The other two new grade I events are the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

In all, the AGSC, which met Dec. 2 in Lexington, reviewed 723 unrestricted stakes with a purse of at least $75,000 in the United States. Fifteen were upgraded.

Elevated to grade II from grade III are the American Turf Stakes and Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs; the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots; and the Sir Beaufort Stakes at Santa Anita Park. Two Breeders' Cup races -- Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint -- went from being ungraded to grade II (it was previously incorrectly reported here that the two races were grade III before being elevated in status).

The rich Sunland Park Derby, another Triple Crown prep, will be graded for the first time next year—it received grade III status. Other events receiving grade III status are the Breeders’ Cup Marathon; Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar; Ft. Lauderdale Stakes at Gulfstream Park; Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows Racetrack & Casino; and the Monmouth Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Grade III status is important for the Sunland Park Derby in terms of field quality because entry into the Kentucky Cup Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) is based on earnings in graded stakes. This year, Mine That Bird finished fourth in the $800,000 New Mexico race but went on to win the Kentucky Derby.

Five races were downgraded from grade I to grade II: the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park; Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes at Laurel Park; Go for Wand Handicap at Saratoga; John C. Mabee Stakes at Del Mar; and Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita.

Ten races were downgraded from grade II to grade III: Bed O’ Roses Handicap at Aqueduct; Beverly Hills Handicap and Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park; Comely Stakes at Aqueduct; Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course; Jefferson Cup Stakes at Churchill; La Prevoyante Handicap at Calder Race Course; Ohio Derby at Thistledown; Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream; and Tom Fool Handicap at Belmont Park.

Eight races were downgraded from grade III to ungraded status: the Baldwin Stakes at Santa Anita; Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park; Calder Derby at Calder; Cinema Handicap at Hollywood Park; Dallas Turf Cup Stakes at Lone Star Park; Adena Stallions’ Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course; and Next Move Stakes and Stuyvesant Handicap at Aqueduct.

The Frances A. Genter Stakes at Calder and Safely Kept Stakes at Laurel weren’t eligible for grading in 2010.

In all, 487 stakes are graded in 2010, two less than this year. Grade I events, at 113, make up 23.2% of the total. There are 156 grade II stakes (32%), and 218 grade III stakes (44.8%). Ungraded stakes worth at least $75,000—there will be 236 in 2010—make up 32.6% of the number of stakes reviewed.