02/28/2006 1:00AM

Woodbine turf will host all the Grade 1 action


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Woodbine's turf course again will play host to all of Canada's Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes in 2006, with the $2 million Canadian International topping the list released by the Jockey Club of Canada on Tuesday.

The Canadian Graded Stakes Committee, which met last month, approved grades for a total of 37 stakes, the same number as last year. A number of graded events that were previously run as handicaps - which have been eliminated by Woodbine this year - will now be allowance stakes.

The track will run three Grade 1 stakes: the Canadian International, E.P. Taylor, and Bell Woodbine Mile, formerly known as the Atto Mile.

The Dance Smartly, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares, has been upgraded to Grade 2 status and is one of nine stakes with that distinction. The Summer Stakes, a one-mile turf race for 2-year-olds, has been demoted from Grade 2 to Grade 3.

The $700,000 Northern Dancer, a new 1 1/2-mile turf race which essentially replaces the discontinued Chinese Cultural Centre Stakes, will be run as a Grade 2 on July 23. The $300,000 Nijinsky Stakes, also a Grade 2 at 1 1/2 miles, will take the late-summer slot of the Niagara Handicap, which has also been discontinued.

The Chinese Cultural Centre has switched its sponsorship from a 1 3/8-mile turf race to the Grade 3 Chinese Cultural Centre Seagram Cup, a 1 1/16-mile main-track race on July 30.

The Duchess, Maple Leaf, and Bessarabian, all Grade 3 races run at Woodbine, have lost their grading, while Woodbine's Ontario Derby and the B.C. Premier's at Hastings have had their Grade 3 status reinstated.

The Whimsical, a six-furlong stakes for fillies and mares at Woodbine, will be graded for the first time.

The Premier's will be one of five Grade 3 stakes run at Hastings in British Columbia. Alberta is the only other province with a graded stakes, the Grade 3 Canadian Derby at Northlands Park.

The minimum purses required for graded eligibility are $250,000 for Grade 1, $150,000 for Grade 2, and $100,000 for Grade 3. Restricted races do not qualify for graded status.

Graded stakes in Canada are recognized internationally for sales cataloging purposes.