The Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, won in 2008 by Ventura, will be a grade I in 2009.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

The Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, won in 2008 by Ventura, will be a grade I in 2009.
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Rick Samuels

Six New Grade I Races for 2009

There will six new grade I events--two of them Breeders' Cup races--in 2009.

There will be seven more graded stakes in the United States in 2009, with six new grade I events—two of them part of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships--based on a listing of graded stakes released Nov. 25 by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

The 2009 list of stakes is a result of the annual grading session, which was conducted Nov. 24 in Lexington. The committee reviewed 746 unrestricted U.S. stakes with a purse of at least $75,000, and assigned graded status to 488 of them, seven more than were graded in 2008.

Thirteen graded events were upgraded by the committee, including six new grade I races and seven new grade II races. Ten new grade III races were identified. Two races that carried grade III status in 2008 are no longer eligible for grading.

The two new grade I Breeders’ Cup races are the Sentient Flight Group Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, and the TVG Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. Both races were held for the first time in 2007 and carried no grade in 2008.

In addition, the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, which carried no grade its first two years, was assigned grade II status. None of the Breeders’ Cup events raced for the first time this year received grades.

“We are pleased that the graded stakes committee recognized the world-class quality of the competition in our new races, and we believe its decision, along with the enthusiastic reaction of the top owners and trainers in the world, is another validation of our expansion from eight to 14 championship races,” Pam Blatz-Murff, senior vice president of Breeders’ Cup Racing, said in a statement.

The four other races upgraded to grade I status for 2009 are the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park, Pat O’Brien Handicap and Clement L. Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar, and the Vinery Madison Stakes at Keeneland.

Six other races were upgraded to grade II status: the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile Stakes at Churchill Downs, Colonial Turf Cup Stakes at Colonial Downs, Fayette Stakes and Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, and the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Racetrack, Casino & Resort.

Ten races were upgraded to grade III status: the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct, Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs, Round Table Handicap at Hollywood Park, Woodford Stakes at Keeneland, Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes at Presque Isle Downs & Casino, Thunder Road Handicap and Daytona Handicap at Santa Anita Park, With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs, and the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

One race, the Suburban Handicap at Belmont, was downgraded from grade I to grade II. No races were downgraded from grade II to grade III.

Four races were downgraded from grade III to ungraded status: the Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct, Bay Meadows Sprint Handicap at Bay Meadows, Bill Hartack Memorial Handicap at Hawthorne Race Course, and the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Stakes at Turfway Park. The Memorial Day Handicap at Calder Race Course and Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream Park were not eligible for grading in 2009.

Graded stakes committee officials discussed the 2009 rankings during a Nov. 25 media teleconference.

“This process is an evolution, not a revolution,” committee chairman Peter Willmott said. “We call them as we see them.”

The committee uses a five-year window to assess each stakes. Committee secretary Andy Schweigardt of TOBA said four statistical categories were used: percentage of graded stakes winners in each race; points earned in graded stakes; points earned for winning graded stakes; and information from the North American Rating Committee.

“There are statistical measurements and some subjective measurements as well,” Schweigardt said. “It’s the depth of the field (in each race), not just the winner.”

Willmott said the committee concluded two Breeders’ Cup events are worthy of grade I status, and the Juvenile Turf grade II status. There are no grade I events for 2-year-old turf runners in the U.S.

“Basically, that grade II puts it at the top of the pyramid for 2-year-old colt turf racing,” Willmott said.

For MTR Gaming-owned Mountaineer and Presque Isle, the upgrades are considerable, said Rose Mary Williams, director of racing at Mountaineer. The West Virginia Derby has carried a grade III tag for most of this decade, while the Master Stakes, a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, was run for the first time in 2007, the year Presque Isle opened.

“I credit (Mountaineer racing secretary) Joe Narcavish and his team in the racing office for the new grade,” Williams said. “They work very hard recruiting horses. Every year, we wait and hope the West Virginia Derby receives a better grade. Everyone works very hard to advance racing in West Virginia.

“I am very pleased with the news for both MTR properties. Debbie Howells and her racing team (at Presque Isle) achieved a grade in just two years on the Master Stakes, and this is a great accomplishment for our newest track. The horsemen at both properties are very supportive of these two graded races.”

Tampa Bay Downs now has a graded local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III) with the grade III Sam F. Davis, which in recent years has attracted horses such as Any Given Saturday, Bluegrass Cat, and Smooth Air. With graded-stakes earnings usually a necessity to get into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the $225,000 race has added value.

“I am very pleased by the graded stakes committee’s decision, as the Sam F. Davis has become an integral part of the Tampa Bay Downs stakes program,” Tampa Bay general manager Peter Berube said.

Keeneland added a 10th grade I stakes when the Vinery Madison got bumped up from grade II.
“Stakes achieve upgrades because of the quality of the horses who participate in them,” Keeneland director of racing Rogers Beasley said in a statement. “On behalf of Keeneland, I want to thank all the horsemen who support our racing program.”

Eligibility to host graded stakes is now tied to adoption of regulations for anabolic steroids and toe grabs. The graded stakes committee issued that mandate Aug. 6.

Under the rules, states or racetracks through house rules must adopt, at a minimum, the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rule on androgenic anabolic steroids by Jan. 1, 2009 or the date of a state or racetrack’s first graded stakes in 2009, whichever is later. If a state or racetrack does not adopt the model rule, their races will lose their graded status and will not be eligible again for grading until the rule is adopted.

In addition, states or racetracks through house rules must adopt the RCI model rule on toe grabs on front feet by Jan. 1, 2009, or the date of a state or track’s first graded stakes in 2009. If the rule is not adopted, the races will lose their graded status and become eligible for grading once the rule is adopted.

Following is a summary breakdown of all grade levels and a complete list of all upgraded and downgraded stakes races for the 2009 racing season. The complete list of 2009 graded stakes can be found here.

2009 Graded Stakes Number % Graded % Eligible Change from 2008
Grade I--115 (23.6%) +5
Grade II--159 (32.6%) +4
Grade III--214 (43.9%) -2
All Graded--488 (65.4%)
Ungraded--258 (34.6%)
All Eligible Races--746

TOBA American Graded Stakes Committee
Summary of decisions made at Nov. 24, 2008 grading session


2-Year-Old Fillies

3-Year-Old Fillies

Older Fillies and Mares
Sentient Flight Group Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint--Ungraded to Grade I
Vinery Madison Stakes (Keeneland)--Grade II to Grade I
Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (Del Mar) --Grade II to Grade I
Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile Stakes (T) (Churchill Downs)--Grade III to Grade II
Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (Keeneland)--Grade III to Grade II
Presque Isle Downs Masters Stakes (Presque Isle Downs)--Ungraded to Grade III

Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (T)--Ungraded to Grade II
Nashua Stakes (Aqueduct)--Grade III to Grade II
With Anticipation Stakes (T) (Saratoga)--Ungraded to Grade III

Jamaica Handicap (T) (Belmont Park)--Grade II to Grade I
West Virginia Derby (Mountaineer Park)--Grade III to Grade II
Colonial Turf Cup Stakes (T) (Colonial Downs)--Grade III to Grade II
Sam F. Davis Stakes (Tampa Bay Downs)--Ungraded to Grade III
Derby Trial Stakes (Churchill Downs)--Ungraded to Grade III

Older Horses
TVG Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile--Ungraded to Grade I
Pat O’Brien Handicap (Del Mar)--Grade II to Grade I
Fayette Stakes (Keeneland)--Grade III to Grade II
Massachusetts Handicap (Suffolk Downs)--Ungraded to Grade III
Round Table Handicap (T) (Hollywood Park)--Ungraded to Grade III
Thunder Road Handicap (T) (Santa Anita Park)--Ungraded to Grade III
Fall Highweight Handicap (Aqueduct)--Ungraded to Grade III
Woodford Stakes (T) (Keeneland)--Ungraded to Grade III
Daytona Handicap (T) (Santa Anita Park)--Ungraded to Grade III