11/25/2008 12:00AM

Six stakes rise to Grade 1 status

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Six races, including two of the newest additions to the Breeders' Cup, have been upgraded to Grade 1 status for 2009, the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association announced Tuesday.

Both the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and the BC Filly and Mare Sprint will be Grade 1 races next year. Both had been ungraded in their first two runnings. They join the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park, the Vinery Madison Stakes at Keeneland, and both the Pat O'Brien Handicap and Clement Hirsch Handicap at Del Mar - all of which were Grade 2 races this year - as new Grade 1 races in 2009.

The graded stakes committee met Monday for its annual meeting in Lexington, Ky., and reviewed 746 unrestricted United States stakes races with purses of at least $75,000. Of those, 488 were graded, seven more than in 2008. Besides the six upgraded to Grade 1, seven races were upgraded to Grade 2, and 10 races moved up to Grade 3 status after being ungraded.

Only one race - the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park - was downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2, leaving an aggregate of five more Grade 1 races in 2009 than 2008. This marks the fifth consecutive year in which the number of Grade 1 races has increased.

"This process is an evolution, not a revolution," Peter Willmott, a prominent horse owner who is the chairman of the graded stakes committee, said Tuesday on a national teleconference. Despite the grade inflation, Willmott said he was satisfied with the statistical data used to grade races. "I feel good about our process," he said.

The seven races that were moved up to Grade 2 status are the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct, the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile, the Colonial Turf Cup, the Fayette Stakes and the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes at Keeneland, and the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Racetrack.

There were no races downgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 3 status.

Upgraded to Grade 3 status for 2009 are the Fall Highweight Handicap at Aqueduct, Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs, Round Table Handicap at Hollywood Park, Woodford Stakes at Keeneland, Masters Stakes at Presque Isle Downs, Thunder Road and Daytona handicaps at Santa Anita, With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga, Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs, and Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

The addition of both the Derby Trial and the Sam Davis Stakes is significant in terms of the Kentucky Derby, in that both races will now count towards the graded earnings that so often determines the field for the Derby. The Derby field is currently capped at 20 runners, and if more than 20 enter, graded stakes earnings is the criteria as to who gets in.

Four races - the Gravesend Handicap at Aqueduct, Bay Meadows Sprint Handicap, Bill Hartack Memorial at Hawthorne, and the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park - were demoted from Grade 3 status this year and will be ungraded in 2009.

Three Breeders' Cup races run for the first time this year - the Juvenile Fillies Turf, Marathon, and Turf Sprint - will not be eligible to be graded until after their second running next year.

The Memorial Day Handicap at Calder (insufficient purse) and the Deputy Minister Handicap at Gulfstream (no longer run) - both Grade 3 races this year - were not eligible to be graded in 2009, according to Andy Schweigardt, the secretary of the graded stakes committee.