12/05/2014 2:49PM

Committee assigns grades to eight additional races for 2015


The American Graded Stakes Committee has assigned grades to 463 races scheduled to be run in 2015, eight more than it assigned to 2014 races, even though the number of races held in the U.S. is declining.

The 2015 schedule will not include any new Grade 1 races, and no current Grade 1 races were downgraded to Grade 2, according to the committee. The committee annually reviews all races that qualify for graded stakes in the U.S. and determines the grades based on the quality of the fields that have run in the races over the past several years.

The decision to award grades to eight more races comes at a time when racetracks are sharply cutting back on races to deal with a dramatic decline in the foal crop from 2010 to 2012 and the continued falloff in the number of starts made by horses. Through November this year, races are down 3.8 percent, but that rate has accelerated in recent months.

If graded races were cut at the same rate as the annualized rate of decline in races, then the committee would have pared 17 grades from the schedule. Last year, when races declined 3 percent, the committee would have needed to cut 14 graded races from the schedule but ended up cutting only two.

Andy Schweigardt, a spokesman for the committee, which is an offshoot of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, said committee members discussed the decline in races during the two days of meetings earlier this week in Lexington. However, the committee also reviewed the percentage of graded races as a share of total races in Europe and Australia and found that the U.S. schedule was comparable to the other countries even with the assignment of more grades this year.

“The percentages are pretty similar,” Schweigardt said. “It’s not a finished discussion, and committee members are aware of it.”

Though there will be no change in Grade 1 races for 2015, the committee assigned grades that will result in a net loss of six Grade 2 races and a net gain of 14 Grade 3 races.

No races were upgraded from Grade 3 to Grade 2, the committee said. The races that were downgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 3 were the Delaware Oaks at Delaware Park, the Molly Pitcher Stakes at Monmouth, the Top Flight Handicap and Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, and the Robert S. Lewis and San Juan Capistrano stakes at Santa Anita.

The committee noted that 24 stakes were not eligible for grades this year because they were not run in 2014. However, the committee assigned grades to three races at Colonial Downs for 2015, even though the track did not run a meet this year and the track’s owner subsequently surrendered its racing license.