12/02/2005 12:00AM

Committee upgrades 23 stakes for 2006

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The American Graded Stakes Committee announced on Friday that it has upgraded 23 stakes for 2006, including four races from Grade 2 to Grade 1, while downgrading seven races.

The committee, which is a component of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, met on Thursday for its annual review of stakes races in the U.S. with a purse of at least $75,000. As a result of the review, eight more graded races will be run in 2006 than in 2005.

In total, of the 734 eligible races, 475 stakes will carry grades in 2006, or 65 percent. Grades were initially assigned by the committee as an aid for cataloging to auction sales, but the grades have since evolved into marketing tools for many racetracks.

The four races upgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 1 in 2006 are the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, the Princess Rooney Handicap at Calder Race Course, the Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, and the Oak Leaf Stakes at Oak Tree at Santa Anita.

No Grade 1 races were downgraded to Grade 2 this year, bringing the total number of Grade 1 stakes in the U.S. to 104.

Seven races were upgraded from Grade 3 to Grade 2: the Jefferson Cup Stakes at Churchill Downs, the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park, the Bed o' Roses Breeders' Cup Handicap at Aqueduct, the Jenny Wiley and Vinery Madison stakes at Keeneland, and the Ballston Spa Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.

Twelve races run without a grade in 2005 were upgraded to Grade 3 by the committee. As a result of the upgrading - along with the downgrade of three Grade 3 races and the upgrade of the seven Grade 3 races to Grade 2 - 211 races will carry a Grade 3, as opposed to 208 last year.

The committee upgraded 10 turf races for 2006, while downgrading two.

One race, the Laurel Futurity, was declared ineligible for a grade in 2006 when the race was switched to the turf for the 2005 running. Prior to the switch, the Futurity was a Grade 3 race.

Among the changes in other categories:

* Two stakes for 2-year-old fillies were upgraded, including the Oak Leaf, while none was downgraded.

* No races for 2-year-old colts were upgraded, while one, the Flash Stakes at Belmont Park's spring meet, was downgraded.

* Four stakes for 3-year-old fillies were upgraded, all of them to Grade 3; none was downgraded.

* Four races for 3-year-olds - three of which are run on the turf - were upgraded, while one was downgraded.

* Six races for older fillies and mares were upgraded, while two were downgraded.

* Six races for older horses were upgraded, while one was downgraded.