Strategic Race Reshuffling: Impact on Graded Stakes Races

Annual Review of Graded Stakes Races by the American Graded Stakes Committee

Every year, the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association conducts a review of stakes races in the United States to determine their grading. This review is essential in horse racing as it helps classify races based on their quality and competitiveness. Recently, the committee unveiled its annual listing of US Graded and Listed Stakes races for the period of February 2022 to January 2023.

Grading Process and Results

The grading session, which took place on January 26-27, involved assessing a total of 891 stakes races in the US with purses of at least $75,000. Out of these, the committee assigned graded status (Grades 1, 2, or 3) to 449 races, marking a four-race increase compared to the previous year. Additionally, 204 races received Listed status, which is the class level directly below Grade 3.

Notable Upgrades

Among the notable changes in grading, eight races were upgraded, with the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland being the most prominent. This race regained its Grade 1 status, a milestone it had not achieved since 2016. The Blue Grass Stakes was joined by two other races in earning promotion to Grade 1 status: the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint and the New York Stakes at Belmont Park.

Keeneland’s Vice President of Racing, Gatewood Bell, expressed his excitement about the restoration of Grade 1 status to the Blue Grass Stakes, stating that it had been a goal they had been pursuing for several years.

New Elite Member in Kentucky Derby Preps

With its upgrade to Grade 1 status, the Blue Grass Stakes now becomes one of the four Grade 1 Kentucky Derby preps. It joins the Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, and Florida Derby as top-tier races on the Derby trail. This promotion enhances the prestige and significance of the Blue Grass Stakes as a key race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds aiming for the Kentucky Derby.

Another noteworthy promotion is the elevation of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint to Grade 1 status. This race had previously debuted in 2018, and its upgrade solidifies its importance as a premier sprint race for two-year-old horses on turf.

Annual Reviews: Fluidity and Impact

The grading system for stakes races is similar to promotion and relegation in European football leagues. Annually, races are evaluated based on factors such as field sizes, field strength, depth of competition, purse size, race longevity, and track conditions. This constant evaluation ensures fluidity and allows races to move up or down the class pyramid.

Approximately 15% of all Thoroughbred races fall under the stakes category, making them the most prestigious events in horse racing. These races attract significant attention and handle a majority of the wagering money. Consequently, any changes in grading have a substantial impact on the racing community.

Relegation and Upgrades

Below the graded stakes events, there are Listed races that also go through promotion and relegation. This year, thirteen races were upgraded from Listed to Grade 3, while nine races were downgraded from Listed to non-Listed Black Type. The impact of these changes is often felt more profoundly by smaller tracks, such as Turfway Park, Indiana Grand, Remington Park, and Presque Isle Downs.

Other Changes in Grading

In addition to the aforementioned upgrades and downgrades, there were a number of races that experienced changes in their grading. Two races, the Secretariat Stakes at Arlington Park and the Flower Bowl Stakes at Saratoga, were downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2. The Secretariat Stakes will now need to find an alternate venue following the closure of Arlington Park.

On the other hand, five races earned promotions to Grade 2 status. These races include the Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs, the Wonder Again and Bed o’ Roses at Belmont Park, the Fanduel Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs, and the Shuvee at Saratoga.

Grade 3 races experienced several changes as well. Four races were relegated from Grade 2 to Grade 3, including the Falls City at Churchill Downs, the Best Pal at Del Mar, and the Adirondack and Bernard Baruch at Saratoga. Thirteen races earned Grade 3 status, with notable additions such as the Jockey Club Derby and Jockey Club Oaks at Belmont Park, the Essex and Oaklawn Mile at Oaklawn Park, the Del Mar Juvenile Turf at Del Mar, and the Surfer Girl and Zuma Beach at Santa Anita.

Distribution of Graded Stakes

Out of the total 449 graded stakes races for the upcoming year, 101 (approximately 22.5%) have been designated as Grade 1 races. Grade 2 races account for 135 (around 30.1%) of the total, while the remaining 213 (approximately 47.4%) races are Grade 3 events. This means that slightly over half of all stakes races, specifically 50.4%, are classified as graded stakes.

Aside from the graded stakes, there are also Listed stakes races comprising 192 (around 21.5%) events, which hold a significant amount of prestige. Additionally, there are 238 (approximately 26.7%) races categorized as non-Listed Black Type. Lastly, there are 12 races designated as Listed-Restricted Status races, representing a small portion of the stakes events between Black Type and full Listed status.


The annual review of graded stakes races by the American Graded Stakes Committee helps set the standards and classifications for horse racing events in the United States. The recent changes in grading, including upgrades, downgrades, and new additions, bring excitement and anticipation to the racing community.


1. How often does the American Graded Stakes Committee conduct its review?

The American Graded Stakes Committee reviews stakes races annually to determine their grading.

2. What factors are considered during the grading process?

Field sizes, field strength, depth of competition, purse size, race longevity, and track conditions are among the factors considered during the grading process.

3. How many Grade 1 races are there among the graded stakes?

Out of the total graded stakes races, there are 101 races designated as Grade 1 races.

4. Are there any significant changes in Kentucky Derby prep races?

Yes, the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland has regained its Grade 1 status, making it one of the four prestigious Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep races.

5. Which races have been relegated from Listed to non-Listed Black Type?

Races such as the Los Alamitos Derby, Bashford Manor, Gulfstream Park Sprint, and Laz Barrera have been downgraded from Listed to non-Listed Black Type.

Doug I. Jones

Doug I. Jones

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