12/02/2016 2:16PM

Blue Grass, Wood Memorial downgraded to Grade 2

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The American Graded Stakes Committee has downgraded three Grade 1 races, including two key Kentucky Derby prep races, and upgraded the Pennsylvania Derby from Grade 2 to Grade 1, according to a release of the 2017 grade assignments on Friday.

The Blue Grass Stakes, held at Keeneland Racecourse in Kentucky, and the Wood Memorial, held at Aqueduct in New York, were the two Grade 1 Kentucky Derby preps downgraded to Grade 2. The other Grade 1 downgraded to a Grade 2 was the Mother Goose Stakes, a race for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park, as the committee appeared to focus this year on downgrading stakes in the 3-year-old division.

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The downgrades of the Blue Grass Stakes and the Wood Memorial leaves the Santa Anita Derby, Arkansas Derby, and Florida Derby as remaining springtime Grade 1 preps for the Kentucky Derby.

The committee, which is administered by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, assigned grades to 464 races in 2017, the same number as last year, despite long-term declines in the number of races held in the U.S. While the schedule has a net loss of two Grade 1 races and a net loss of five Grade 2 races, the committee assigned a Grade 3 to a net of seven more races than this year, according to the release.

The committee met Wednesday in Lexington, Ky., for its annual review of the graded stakes schedule, examining the fields of the past five runnings of the 790 unrestricted stakes races held in the U.S. this year that qualified for graded status. The grades are assigned to provide a shorthand way for the bloodstock industry to measure the quality of competition a horse faced during its career. Racetracks also use the grades as a marketing tool.

Earlier this year, the committee voted to take a close look at reducing the number of graded races due to steady declines in U.S. foal crops and commensurate declines in the number of races held over the past decade. The number of races held in the U.S. in 2007 was 51,304, while in 2015, the number of races was 38,941, a decline of 24.1 percent. Over the same time period, the number of graded races has dropped negligibly, from 474 in 2007 to 464 in 2015.

Andy Schweigardt, the committee’s executive secretary, said that the committee remained cognizant of the disparity between the decline in the number of races and the number of assigned grades, but he cited the higher number of downgrades among Grade 1 and Grade 2 races this year as evidence that the committee was preparing to reduce the overall number of grades.

“The committee talked about wanting to work from the top down and that [reducing the total number of grades] would be a multi-year process,” Schweigardt said. “So it’s starting to work its way down.”

The 3-year-old division had the most downgrades. Aside from the three Grade 1 downgrades, the Peter Pan Stakes, the Indiana Derby, the Indiana Oaks, the Commonwealth Derby, the Los Alamitos Derby, and the West Virginia Derby were among the 10 races downgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 3.

Schweigardt said that the committee did not go into the review this week targeting the 3-year-old division for downgrades, but he said that when the division came up for review, the committee “spent a considerable amount of time in discussion.”

Four races were upgraded from Grade 3 to Grade 2: the Knickerbocker Stakes and the Belmont Sprint Championship at Belmont Park; the Woodford Stakes at Keeneland; and the Penn Mile Stakes at Penn National.

Grade 1 to Grade 2  
RACE TRACK
Blue Grass Stakes Keeneland Racecourse
Mother Goose Stakes Belmont Park
Wood Memorial Aqueduct
Grade 2 to Grade 1  
Pennsylvania Derby Parx Racing
Grade 2 to Grade 3  
Commonwealth Derby (T) Laurel
Indiana Derby Indiana Grand
Indiana Oaks Indiana Grand
Lake George Stakes (T) Saratoga Racecourse
Los Alamitos Derby Los Alamitos Racecourse
Monmouth Cup Stakes Monmouth
Peter Pan Stakes Belmont Park
Smile Sprint Stakes Gulfstream
West Virginia Derby Mountaineer Park
With Anticipation Stakes (T) Saratoga Racecourse
Grade 3 to Grade 2  
Belmont Park Sprint Championship Belmont Park
Knickerbocker Stakes (T) Belmont Park
Penn Mile Stakes Penn National
Woodford Stakes (T) Keeneland
Grade 3 to Listed  
Arlington-Washington Futurity Arlington Park
Boiling Springs Stakes (T) Monmouth
Jersey Shore Stakes Monmouth
Old Hat Stakes Gulfstream
Listed to Grade 3  
Desert Stormer Stakes Santa Anita
Intercontinental Stakes (T) Belmont
Kentucky Downs Ladies Turf Stakes (T) Kentucky Downs
Wonder Again Stakes (T) Belmont Park
Belmont Gold Cup Invitational Belmont Park
Lukas Classic Stakes Churchill Downs
Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint Stakes (T) Kentucky Downs
Ohio Derby Thistledown