12/01/2006 12:00AM

13 stakes rise in status for 2007

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The American Graded Stakes Committee announced Friday that it has upgraded 13 races for 2007, including five from Grade 2 to Grade 1, while downgrading nine races.

The committee, which is a component of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, met Thursday in Lexington, Ky., for its annual review of stakes races in the U.S. with a purse of at least $75,000. Of those 722 eligible races, 474 will be graded in 2007, one fewer than this year.

Four of the five races upgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 1 are run on the Southern California circuit: the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap, Lady's Secret BC Handicap, and Norfolk BC Stakes, all run at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meet, and the Del Mar Futurity at Del Mar. The other new Grade 1 is the Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland.

Two races, the Matron Stakes at Belmont Park and the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, were downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2.

Three races went from Grade 3 to Grade 2: the Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park, the Allaire duPont BC at Pimlico, and the Cashcall Invitational at Hollywood Park. Conversely, two races went from Grade 2 to Grade 3: the Laz Barrera Memorial at Hollywood and Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct.

Five races went from ungraded to Grade 3, while another five went in just the opposite direction, from Grade 3 to ungraded. The upgrades are the Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs, the Alysheba Stakes and Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill, the Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream, and the Doubledogdare Stakes at Keeneland. The downgrades are the Long Branch BC at Monmouth Park, the Lexington Stakes at Belmont, the Bay Meadows Derby at Bay Meadows, the Fifth Season Stakes at Oaklawn Park, and the Yerba Buena BC at Golden Gate Fields.

Perhaps the most surprising shift for any race was the downgrading of the Clark Handicap, which was just run Nov. 24. Premium Tap, the third-place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Classic, was a romping winner of the $572,000 Clark, which had been a Grade 2 for many years before being upgraded to a Grade 1 for the first time this year.

"Obviously it's disappointing to only have it a Grade 1 for one year," said Churchill racing secretary Ben Huffman. "I guess we'll just have to roll up our sleeves and make it even better next year."

Of the 474 graded races in 2007, there will 107 Grade 1's, 157 Grade 2's, and 210 Grade 3's.

One race on the original 2006 schedule that was not run was the Grade 2 Massachusetts Handicap, which was not eligible for grading for 2007.

The genesis of grading stakes races stemmed from using them as an aid for cataloging to public auctions, but in some cases the grades have evolved into marketing tools for racetracks.