08/10/2016 3:57PM

Graded stakes committee to trim list of graded races


The organization that assigns grades to U.S. stakes races has decided that the time is right to begin reducing the number of graded races in the U.S., citing the sharp decline in the foal crop from 2007-12 and a comparable decline in the number of races held in recent years.

The American Graded Stakes Committee decided at a Tuesday meeting to form a subcommittee to examine the total number of Grade 1 races to determine which divisions should have Grade 1 races trimmed from the roster, according to the group’s executive secretary, Andy Schweigardt. The subcommittee, whose members have not yet been named, will report its findings to the full committee before it meets Nov. 30 to assign grades for the 2017 calendar year, Schweigardt said.

“We found out that these races are getting harder and harder to fill, and that’s because there just aren’t the horses to fill them,” said Schweigardt, relaying a conversation among racing officials at the Tuesday meeting. “So, we’re going to look at the total number of Grade 1s and try to make that number commensurate with the number of horses in inventory.”

The committee, which is administered by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, annually reviews all races that meet certain criteria to assign grades. The grades are used by the bloodstock industry as a kind of shorthand for the quality of horses that a certain horse faced, and racetracks also use the grades as a marketing tool, though with limited effectiveness.

The committee has been facing outside pressure to reduce the number of graded races in recent years because of the sharp decline in the foal crop, which has led to an equally precipitous decline in the number of races held in the U.S. In 2007, the foal crop was 34,357, dropping to an estimated 20,300 last year, according to Jockey Club figures. The total number of U.S. races dropped from 51,304 to 38,941 over that same time period.

Yet despite those drops, the number of grades assigned by the committee has barely budged. In 2007, the committee assigned grades to 474 races; in 2016, the committee assigned grades to 464 races.

Schweigardt said the committee is likely to start trimming the number of Grade 1 races this year and will then seek to trim Grade 2 and Grade 3 races from the roster in subsequent years.

“It’s not going to happen in one fell swoop,” Schweigardt said. “It’s going to take a couple of years.” 

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