02/18/2003 1:00AM

Four Grade 1's at Woodbine


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Following a disappointing one-year stint as a Grade 1 race, Woodbine's Niagara Breeders' Cup Handicap has been bumped back to Grade 2 status for its 2003 running.

The Niagara, a $300,000 turf race for 3-year-olds and upward, was the only race to undergo a change of grading on this year's schedule of graded stakes.

The complete list, released Tuesday by the Jockey Club of Canada's Canadian Graded Stakes Committee, comprises 40 races worth a total of $7.845 million.

There is one new name on the list - the Ontario Derby, a Grade 3 race at Woodbine that formerly was known as the Colonel R.S. McLaughlin Handicap.

A total of 32 graded stakes, including all four Grade 1 races and 10 of the 11 Grade 2 races, will be run at Woodbine. Canada's only other Grade 2 race - the British Columbia Derby - will be at Hastings, as will four Grade 3 races. Assiniboia Downs, Northlands Park, and Stampede Park each have on Grade 3 race.

Restricted races, the premier example being the $1 million Queen's Plate for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds, do not qualify for graded status.

The Canadian Graded Stakes Committee was formed in 1999 after Canada opted out of the North American graded stakes program.

The gradings are recognized internationally for cataloging purposes, but 1-2-3 finishers in Canada's graded stakes do not receive Breeders' Cup points.