12/04/2015 2:42PM

Saratoga's Fourstardave elevated to Grade 1 status for 2016

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LEXINGTON, Ky. – The American Graded Stakes Committee has assigned grades to 464 races for the 2016 racing schedule, one more than last year, despite sharp contractions in the number of U.S. races held over the past three years.

One stakes, the Fourstardave at Saratoga in upstate New York, was upgraded to a Grade 1 from a Grade 2, the committee said. Two Grade 1 races, the Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar and the Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita Park, were downgraded to Grade 2.

The full list of graded races was released on Friday, two days after the annual review meeting in Lexington of the American Graded Stakes Committee, which is administered by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. While the net loss of Grade 1 races and Grade 2 races was one in each category, three more races were assigned a Grade 3 rating than last year, leading to the net gain of one graded race for next year.

The number of graded stakes will increase despite a 5.4 percent decline in the number of races held so far this year when compared with last year. In 2014 and in 2013, the number of races at U.S. tracks declined 4.3 percent in each year, according to Jockey Club data, for a three-year decline from 43,139 to an estimated 39,000 races this year.

Andrew Schweigardt, the secretary of the committee, said that despite the overall decline in the number of races, the number of graded races in the U.S. still hovers around 1 percent of the total number of races held in the country, a percentage that he called standard among major racing countries. In 2014, when there were 455 grades assigned, there were 41,277 races held at U.S. tracks, for a graded-race percentage of 1.12 percent. If 2015’s rate of decline for overall races holds through the rest of the year, the graded-race rate will jump to 1.18 percent.

“They’re certainly cognizant of it,” Schweigardt said. “The sense among most of the members, or more than not, is that they are looking at each individual race and whether it should receive a grade or not.”

Five races were upgraded from Grade 3 to Grade 2: the Eight Belles Stakes at Churchill; the Rachel Alexandra at Fair Grounds; the Shakertown and Phoenix stakes at Keeneland; and the Hillsborough Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Six races were downgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 3: the Distaff Handicap at Aqueduct; the Futurity and Matron stakes at Belmont; the Hawthorne Gold Cup at Hawthorne; the Beaumont at Keeneland; and the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs.

Four Grade 3 races were downgraded to listed and another Grade 3 race was canceled, while eight listed races were upgraded to Grade 3.

In total, 109 races were assigned a Grade 1, while 133 races were assigned a Grade 2. A total of 222 races were assigned a Grade 3.