11/26/2003 12:00AM

Four new Grade 1 races

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Four stakes races have been upgraded to Grade 1 for next year by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.

The new Grade 1 stakes are the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, the Citation Handicap and American Oaks at Hollywood Park, and the Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar.

The American Graded Stakes Committee met on Monday in Lexington, Ky., to review 759 stakes races in the U.S. that had a minimum purse of $75,000 in 2003. In total, the committee upgraded 12 races. Nineteen races, including five Grade 1 races, were downgraded, bringing the total number of graded stakes in the U.S. to 480, seven fewer than last year.

Of the 19 downgrades, 10 stakes were not eligible for grades because they were not run in 2003, including six stakes at shuttered Hialeah Park, which last operated in 2001.

The five Grade 1 races to be downgraded are the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park, the Spinaway at Saratoga, the Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream, and two races at Santa Anita, the San Juan Capistrano Handicap on turf and the San Carlos Handicap.

Three races were downgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 3, and four Grade 3 races lost their graded status. Hardest hit were races for older horses. Nine graded races in that division were downgraded, including five that were not run last year.

Among the other upgraded races, eight races were elevated to Grade 2 from Grade 3, including three races for 3-year-old fillies and three races for 3-year-olds. Six races were upgraded to Grade 3 from no grade in 2003, including two races for 3-year-olds, the Virginia Derby on turf at Colonial Downs and the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs.

The American Oaks was the only race this year to be ungraded last year and become either a Grade 2 or Grade 1. The first two runnings of the American Oaks, a turf race for 3-year-old fillies, have been won by Megahertz and Dimitrova.

Three of the Grade 1 races that were downgraded would not have met the minimum purse requirements set for Grade 1 stakes for 2004 - the Futurity, Spinaway, and San Carlos. Earlier this year, the graded stakes committee approved a rule setting the minimum at $250,000 for next year, up from $125,000 in 2001 and $200,000 in 2002.

Going into 2004, 13 other Grade 1 stakes have purses below the minimum. If the purses for the stakes are not raised before the races are run, the races would be considered Grade 2 stakes, according to Andrew Schweigardt, a spokesman for TOBA.

The minimum purse for a Grade 2 stakes next year will be $150,000, and the minimum for a Grade 3 will be $100,000, identical to 2003.