Updated on 12/02/2011 4:05PM

Two BC races, Cotillion among four new Grade 1 stakes for 2012

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Coady Photography/Keeneland
The Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland, won this past spring by Never Retreat, has been elevated from Grade 2 to Grade 1 status for 2012.

The American Graded Stakes Committee awarded grades to 465 races for 2012, a 1.8 percent decline from the grades awarded by the committee last year, at a time when race dates at U.S. racetracks are contracting at a nearly 5 percent annual pace.

In total, the committee assigned higher grades to 13 races, including four races that were upgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 1. Eleven races were downgraded, including four races downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2, while another 11 races that were assigned grades for 2011 were not assigned grades for next year because the races were not eligible for grades.

The committee also assigned grades to 27 races restricted to 2 year olds in 2012. Under a measure approved earlier this year, the committee said it would rescind the grades if horses in any of the 2-year-old races were allowed to run on raceday medication, including the anti-bleeding medication furosemide, which is legal to administer in every U.S. racing jurisdiction. Since passing the measure, committee officials have said that enforcing the measure may depend on whether states are successful in rolling back rules permitting raceday medication.

The races that were upgraded to Grade 1 from Grade 2 are the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, which are both scheduled to be held at Santa Anita in 2012; the Jenny Wiley Stakes for fillies and mares at Keeneland; and the Cotillion Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing.

The races that were downgraded from Grade 1 to Grade 2 are the Ruffian Invitational Stakes for fillies and mares and the Hopeful Stakes for 2 year olds, both at Saratoga; the Hollywood Turf Cup for 3-year-olds and older at Hollywood; and the Pat O’Brien Stakes for 3-year-olds and older at Del Mar.

Although the number of assigned grades is nine less than the number assigned last year, the number of graded stakes is still not declining as quickly as the number of races in the U.S., a situation that risks diluting the quality of stakes races. Last year, tracks ran 7.8 percent fewer race cards than in 2009, and this year, the number of race cards held at U.S. tracks through October was down 4.7 percent compared with the same period in 2010.

Another 11 stakes that received grades in 2011 were not assigned grades for 2012, largely because the stakes races were canceled by the tracks that host them. The races include the Nassau County Stakes and First Flight Handicap at Belmont; the Colonial Turf Cup Stakes at Colonial Downs; the Golden Gate Fields Turf Stakes at Golden Gate; the Will Rogers Stakes, Ack Ack Handicap, and Round Table Handicap at Hollywood Park; the Bryan Station and Perryville Stakes at Keeneland; and the El Conejo and Tuzla handicaps at Santa Anita Park.

The American Graded Stakes Committee is administered by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The grades are assigned by a committee of owners, breeders, and racing secretaries who review all stakes worth $75,000 or more. The grades were developed to provide a shorthand indication of the quality of a race’s field for sales catalogs, but many tracks use the grades as marketing tools as well.