By Frank Angst
Lexington, KY (December 1, 2017)-The American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association Dec. 1 presented its listing of U.S. graded and listed stakes races for 2018, the result of its annual grading session conducted Nov. 28-29 in Lexington.
The committee reviewed 806 U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000 and assigned graded status to 455, nine fewer than were graded in 2017; and listed status to 177. Seven graded races were upgraded; five new grade 3 races were named; 18 new listed races were upgraded from non-listed black-type status. Sixteen races that carried graded or listed status in 2017 are no longer eligible for grading.
No race was upgraded to grade 1 status for 2018. One race was downgraded from grade 1 to grade 2 for 2018: the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.
For 2018 the committee has amended its eligibility requirements to make races having the non-winners of a sweepstakes condition, and meeting all other eligibility requirements, eligible for listed status. Any non-winners of a sweepstakes race upgraded to listed status will be designated as listed-restricted and carry an "LR" designation in sales catalogs produced by members of the Society of International Thoroughbred Auctioneers.
AGSC chairman J. David Richardson said the "LR" status for American races will be limited to stakes that are restricted to the "non-winners of a sweepstakes condition." Also, races with this restriction will continue to not be eligible for grade 1, 2, or 3 status, only listed status. Richardson said recognizing such races in Europe and Australia is common and that SITA recognizes the standard.
"There was precedent. We were not in step with other international jurisdictions in that regard. We didn't have to be, but we could be," Richardson said. "Then secondly, there were some races that clearly had a quality about them, with very competitive horses—many of which went on to perform well in other races. The races were really very good."
Six races were upgraded to listed-restricted status for 2018: the C.E.R.F. Stakes at Del Mar; Clocker's Corner at Santa Anita Park; and the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose, Fasig-Tipton Lure, Shine Again, and Summer Colony at Saratoga Race Course.
In terms of shifts in grades, the committee reduced the number of grade 3 races by nine, reduced grade 1 races by one, and increased the grade 2 races by one. Richardson said the committee is reacting to reduced field sizes in these races.
"There is no question that field sizes in many of our races have markedly decreased. So field size, especially quality field size, you have to look at and examine it," Richardson said. "It becomes evident that when your horse population (decreases), there's going to be fewer quality horses. Now some have argued that there are as many quality horses as ever and only the bottom end has gone away. You can argue that, but what we do know is that field sizes for our major races have markedly decreased."
Richardson, speaking for himself as opposed to speaking for the committee, thinks reduced foal crops and evolving training methods have impacted field size in America's top races.
"Foal crop size has something to do with it but the other thing is, clearly, trainers just don't run horses the way they used to. It used to be they'd run every two or three weeks. Then it got to a month and now we're seeing horses get eight or nine weeks off. I'm not a trainer, so I'm not criticizing that, but clearly we aren't running horses the way we used to," Richardson said. "I think that combination of trainer preference, or trainer-owner preference whichever it is, on really wide spacing between races and decreased foal size has led to a marked reduction in field size in many of the American graded stakes. That has to impact the grades in some way."
Seven races (all are stakes unless noted as a handicap) were upgraded to grade 2 status for 2018: the Belmont Gold Cup Invitational, Hill Prince, Jaipur Invitational, and Miss Grillo at Belmont Park; Appalachian and JP Morgan Chase Jessamine at Keeneland; and Glens Falls at Saratoga.
For 2018, seven races will be downgraded from grade 2 to grade 3: the Nashua at Aqueduct Racetrack; Forward Gal, Honey Fox, Royal Delta, and Swale at Gulfstream Park; Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup at Laurel Park; and Amsterdam at Saratoga.
Five races were upgraded to grade 3 status for 2018: the Soaring Softly at Belmont; Kentucky Downs Ladies Sprint at Kentucky Downs; West Virginia Governor's at Mountaineer Park; Remington Park Oaks at Remington Park; and Troy at Saratoga.
Eleven races were downgraded from grade 3 to listed status for 2018: the Jerome and Top Flight Invitational at Aqueduct; Futurity at Belmont; Colonel E. R. Bradley at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots; El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields; Carry Back and Miami Mile at Gulfstream; Betfair.com Pegasus and Cliff Hanger at Monmouth Park; Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows; and Los Angeles at Santa Anita.
Twelve races were upgraded to listed status for 2018: the Artie Schiller at Aqueduct; Allied Forces at Belmont; Green Flash Handicap at Del Mar; Sand Springs and South Beach at Gulfstream; Marylander and Richard W. Small at Laurel; Pennsylvania Derby Champion at Parx Racing; David M. Vance Sprint at Remington; Bolton Landing and Caress at Saratoga; and Lady Jacqueline at Thistledown.
Four races were downgraded from listed to non-listed black-type status for 2018: the Jean Lafitte at Delta Downs; H.B.P.A. at Presque Isle Downs; and Kip Deville and Remington Green at Remington.
The Affectionately and Evening Attire at Aqueduct; Sixty Sails at Hawthorne Race Course; Super Derby, Super Derby Prelude, and Unbridled at Louisiana Downs; Decathlon, Elkwood, Jersey Shore, Lighthouse, Monmouth Beach, Sorority, and Teddy Drone at Monmouth; Valley Forge at Parx; Remington Park Sprint Cup at Remington; and Last Tycoon at Santa Anita were not eligible for grading in 2018.