The committee, formerly called the North American Graded Stakes Committee when Canadian races were in the mix, was formed in 1973 and operates under the auspices of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The grades it assigns are of particular use to breeders for sale catalogue pages, but also are used for point or earnings systems that determine eligibility for the top Thoroughbred races.
The American Graded Stakes Committee will meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Lexington to review the grades assigned to 475 stakes in the United States, and in total will look at about 750 races that are unrestricted and carry a purse of at least $75,000.The committee, which meets once a year, uses a five-year formula to assess races and assign grade I, grade II, or grade III status. During a Monday teleconference, officials said there is some subjectivity in the process, but it really comes down to statistics."The methodology we use, though, is a work in process," said Russell Jones, who chairs the committee.The committee's calendar goes Breeders' Cup to Breeders' Cup, which means races run after Oct. 27 of this year won't be in the mix. Their previous five runnings will be, though.For example, the Nov. 22 Falls City Handicap, a grade III event at Churchill Downs that lured six grade I or group I winners in a field of seven, won't be on the table this year. Officials did say the race is a "high grade III" that has a good chance of being upgraded based on its previous five runnings.Purse money isn't a factor in the grading system. At least two $500,000 stakes -- the Lone Star Derby and the West Virginia Derby -- aren't graded. Again, officials said the previous five editions of those races must be assessed equally before any grade can be considered.Committee officials said they grade races now for 2002 rather than after they are run next year in part because it gives horsemen a chance to plan their schedules. "We record history, but we also try to predict it a little bit," said Dell Hancock, a member of the committee.Tracks with races in danger of being downgraded are sent letters. Officials also said a smaller racetrack with a marquee race would earn no special attention to protect the integrity of the system.