12/04/2010 3:40PM

Calder looks to regain Tropical Derby's lost luster

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MIAMI – The Calder stakes program was dealt a severe blow by the American Graded Stakes Committee earlier this week when the track lost Grade 3 status for four of its races in 2011, including the tradition-rich Tropical Park Derby, to be run on New Year’s Day. The Tropical Park Derby for 3-year-olds has served as not only the first derby and first Kentucky Derby prep in the United States each year, but also the first graded stakes race of any kind each year since it became a Grade 2 event in 1983.

The other stakes to be downgraded next year were the Memorial Day Handicap, Stage Door Betty, and Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap. The Kenny Noe Jr. was cancelled earlier this fall due to financial considerations. The Stage Door Betty was moved from its original spot on Dec. 18 to New Year’s Day, but because it had been scheduled to be run in 2010, the American Graded Stakes Committee has allowed it to remain a Grade 3 for the upcoming running.

Naturally, track officials were dismayed upon receiving the news of the downgrades.

“I can understand the logic for the Stage Door Betty and Kenny Noe being downgraded,” said John Marshall, vice president and general manager of racing at Calder. “But I am very disappointed the stakes committee viewed the Tropical Park Derby and Memorial Day the way they did. Of course this doesn’t say we’re not going to have these races again next year and we are especially going to be committed to build the Tropical Park Derby back to the level it once was. We’re definitely not giving up on that one.”

The Tropical Park Derby has had an impressive roster of winners since its inaugural running in 1975. Among the more recent are Barbaro, who used his victory in the 2006 Tropical Park Derby as a springboard to winning both the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby later that spring, and Kitten’s Joy who captured the Tropical Park Derby in 2004 before going on to be named the Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s top turf horse that same season.