One of the most underrated, but awaited, horseracing activities took place over the weekend when the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association revealed its listing of US Graded and Listed Stakes Races for 2021.

North Dakota-Graded Stakes Review
North Dakota’s upset victory in the Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct came in a Grade 3 race. The Red Smith was one of three races promoted to Grade 2 status for 2021. (Image: Coglianese Photo)

This annual event came with a twist this year, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic. The committee evaluated races between the 2019 Breeders’ Cup through March 15 as normal. They evaluated races after March 15, building in considerations toward any pandemic-related matters.

The committee reviewed 849 American stakes races with purses of at least $75,000. Through that process, 445 earned Graded status. Another 193 received Listed status. The 445 graded races represent a three-race drop from 2020. Of those 445, 100 (22.6%)  are Grade 1s, 135 (30.3%) are Grade 2s, and 210 (47.3%) Grade 3s.

Much like promotion and relegation in European football, stakes races undergo annual reviews based on their field sizes, strength, and depth. Other factors include race longevity, purse size, and track conditions, among others. The resulting movement bestows graded status on some races, putting them at the pinnacle of the sport.

At the same time, the committee takes that status away from others. Those races are dropped into Listed status.

Listed Stakes can Fall into Black-Type Hole

Listed races aren’t immune from relegation. The committee relegated five races to non-listed Black-Type stakes races. Conversely, 12 Black-Type races were promoted to Listed races for 2021.

Back at the top of the class pyramid, only one race was upgraded to Grade 1 status: the Saratoga Derby Invitational. No races were relegated from Grade 1 to Grade 2.

Three more received promotions to Grade 2, including the Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct and the Franklin-Simpson Stakes and Kentucky Turf Club Stakes. Both of those latter races run at Kentucky Downs.

Grade 3 Stakes Class Encounters the Most Flux

Conversely, three more races were downgraded from Grade 2s to Grade 3s. Those are the Knickerbocker Stakes at Belmont Park and two Santa Anita Park races, the Palos Verdes Stakes, and the Las Virgenes Stakes.

Four races joined the Grade 3 class, including the Gulfstream Park Turf Sprint Stakes, the Tourist Mile Stakes at Kentucky Downs, and two Saratoga races, the Caress Stakes and the Saratoga Oaks Invitational Stakes.

Conversely, five races lost their Grade 3 status: the Discovery Stakes at Aqueduct, the Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park, the Palm Beach and Rampart stakes at Gulfstream Park, and the Senator Ken Maddy Stakes at Santa Anita. They’ll race as Listed Stakes in 2021.

Some Key Races Gain Listed Status in 2021

Twelve new races gained Listed status. Most notable among those are the CTT and TOC Stakes at Del Mar, the Oaklawn Mile and Oaklawn Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the Desert Code Stakes at Santa Anita Park, and the Mahony Stakes at Saratoga.

Five more lost their Listed status for 2021, including the Correction Stakes at Aqueduct, the Azalea Stakes at Gulfstream Park, the Dixie Bell Stakes at Oaklawn Park, the Delta Mile Stakes at Delta Downs, and the John Battaglia Memorial Stakes at Turfway Park.