12/01/2004 1:00AM

Brown Bess, derby lose graded status


ALBANY, Calif. - There was disappointment but no real hand-wringing at Golden Gate Fields when word was received that the Golden Gate Derby and Brown Bess Handicap had lost their graded status.

They were two of the 20 stakes nationwide that lost graded status. The decision strips the current meeting of its only graded races.

Northern California did retain nine graded stakes, headed by the Grade 2 San Francisco Breeders' Cup Mile.

Both the Golden Gate Derby and Brown Bess were worth $100,000 in 2004 and were scheduled to be run for the same value in 2005.

"When you get in a graded race, that's everyone's goal," said trainer Jerry McArthur, who saddled this year's Golden Gate Derby runner-up, O.K. Mikie.

"I don't know what difference it really makes. For an owner, it's all about the money. It doesn't bother me that much, but it looks good on paper."

Northern California's leading trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, said he thought the loss of graded races further pointed out the general decline in racing in the state of California.

"We need people in important places, like someone in the legislature, to notice how important the industry is and how to help it," he said, pointing to how slot machines have helped the purse structure in other states and suggesting that some type of partnership between racing and Indian gaming in the state could prove helpful.

"I believe the program starts at the top. If you have a strong stakes program, other purses will follow, so, of course, it's a big blow. It takes away an area that could be helpful."

Racing secretary Sean Greely said: "It's a shame to lose a graded stakes. It takes five years to lose and would take five years to get it back."

Former racing secretary Tom Doutrich said: "Graded stakes may not mean that much to the local bettor, but it's important to the breeders, and that's where it begins. There's no positive in it. We have to evaluate why they cut the stakes, and the key is to hold the ones we have.

"I would be very concerned if it was just two that lost their grading and both were in northern California, but maybe the Graded Stakes Committee is looking at field size across the nation and trying to make graded stakes more valuable."

Charlie Dougherty Jr. of the California Thoroughbred Trainers was unhappy about the decision and suggested, "It was probably based solely on value, not quality."

Jim Ghidella, the Thoroughbred Owners of California's representative in the northern part of the state, called the decision unfortunate and said of the Graded Stakes Committee's decision, "It must have been something I didn't see."

Final Finale goes for three in a row

Final Finale seeks his third straight victory as he moves up the class ladder in Friday's co-feature, a $25,000 claimer at 1 1/8 miles. He should be able to sit just off the pace of Uncle Jack, who was recently claimed at Hollywood Park, just as he has in winning his past two starts.

In a $25,000 claimer for fillies and mares at six furlongs, American Anthem faces Smokette and Some Came Running, who were both claimed off victories.