Is American racing getting better, or is the American Graded Stakes Committee finding it increasingly difficult to downgrade races as it moves more stakes into Grade 1 and Grade 2 categories? The committee, organized by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, announced its graded stakes designations on Tuesday, adding six races to grade 1 status while downgrading just one and moving seven to grade II while not downgrading a single race from that category. Ten races were moved up to grade III status, while four were stripped of their grade III ranking, including one race at a track that is being closed.
That's a net gain of 18 graded races at a time when some tracks are shutting down and others are reducing their number of racing programs.
“I think we have some great racing in this country,” said Peter Willmott, chairman of the TOBA committee, “whether it's getting better…I don't know. When we looked at the statistical data on all these races, we find some of the statistics on the Grade 2 and Grade 3 races merit moving them up.”
Willmott referred to a pyramid the committee has used as a model, with 20% of the graded stakes ideally rated Grade 1, 30% Grade 2 and 50% Grade 3. In recent years, however, as more races are designated with higher grades, the pyramid has gotten heavier on the top. Including the new grades for 2009, the percentage of Grade 1 are now at 23.6%; Grade 2, 32.6%; and Grade 3, 43.9%. The committee graded 488 races from the 746 stakes (65.4%) it considers eligible: those races which are unrestricted and offer a minimum purse of $75,000.
Two of the six new Grade 1 races are Breeders' Cup events added in 2007: the Dirt Mile and Filly and Mare Sprint. A third Breeders' Cup race, the Juvenile Turf, also new in 2007, was designated as a Grade 2. The new Breeders' Cup races in 2008: the Marathon, Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Turf Sprint were not graded because they have had just one running.
The only race to lose Grade 1 status was the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park for older horses going a route of ground at Belmont Park.
The upgrading of the Pat O'Brien gives Del Mar two Grade 1 sprint races of the nine Grade 1 sprints in the older horse division. Combined with the three Grade 1 races at a mile (Metropolitan Handicap, Cigar Mile, Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile), there are now more Grade 1 races for older horses on dirt or synthetics at distances of a mile or less than there are Grade 1 races for older horses going longer than a mile on those surfaces.
The committee uses different statistical tools to grade races, including individual horse ratings compiled by a panel of North American racing officials. Some subjectivity is also included in the process.
Click here to view the TOBA press release about the 2009 graded stakes, including those races that changed in grade.
Click here to view the entire 2009 list of American graded stakes.
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