A graded stakes race is a thoroughbred horse race in the United States that meets the criteria of the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA). A specific grade level (I, II, III or listed) is then assigned to the race, based on statistical analysis of the quality of the field in previous years, provided the race meets the minimum purse criteria for the grade in question. In Canada, a similar grading system is maintained by the Jockey Club of Canada. Graded stakes races are similar to Group races in Europe but the grading is more dynamic in North America.
The grading system was designed in 1973 and first published in 1974. The original purpose of grading was to identify the most competitive races, which helps horsemen make comparisons of the relative quality of bloodstock for breeding and sales purposes. A high grading can also be used by racetracks to promote the race in question. When determining Eclipse Award winners, racing journalists will consider the number and grade of a horse's stakes wins during the year.
In general, stakes race refers to the stake, or entry fee, owners must pay, which generally forms part of the prize money offered to the top finishers. Not all stakes races are eligible for grading. Notably, races that are restricted to horses bred in a specific state (e.g., the Tiznow Stakes for California-breds) or country (e.g., the races that make up the Canadian Triple Crown, all restricted to Canadian-breds) are excluded, regardless of the purse or quality of field. Conversely, some races that are not technically stakes races (usually invitational races where entry fees are not required by the racetrack) may be eligible for grading if they meet the quality standards.
The American Graded Stakes Committee grades only races that:
In 2008, the Committee began requiring that toe grabs on the horseshoe, designed to improve traction, be no longer than 2 millimeters. This was in response to studies by Dr. Susan Stover showing that such toe grabs substantially increase the risk of catastrophic racing injuries. They have also discussed a phase-out on the race day use of furosemide (Lasix).
A newly established race may inherit the graded status of a discontinued race if it is held at the same facility under essentially identical conditions as the discontinued race. For example, the inaugural running of the Pegasus World Cup in January 2017 was Grade I, inheriting the status of the discontinued Donn Handicap.
There are four grade levels, from Listed at the bottom to Grade I at the top. The latter are higher-class races for bigger prizes for horses of the same age group (2, 3 or 3 and up) and may further be restricted by sex. The weight conditions of the races may vary provided they meet the Committee's standards to ensure competitiveness. Many grade I races are "weight-for-age", with weights adjusted only according to age and sex, and also there are "set weights" where all horses carry the same weight (usually applicable when all horses are of the same age and sex). Furthermore, there are "conditions" races, in which horses carry weights that are set by conditions, such as having won a certain number of races, or races of a certain value. Finally, some graded stakes are "handicaps", in which an official handicapper assigns weights to each horse in an attempt to equalize the competition.
Note that all Grade I races must have a purse of at least $300,000, but not all races with such high purses are Grade I. For example, the racetrack may be offering a high purse to attract better fields so the race will be upgraded in future years. The grade level is assigned by looking at data that indicates quality of the field for the last five years. In order to achieve or maintain a Grade I, it is necessary to attract a competitive field over a number of years.
For graded turf races, track conditions (normally excessive rain) may sometimes force the race to be run on the main (dirt) track. If this happens, the race is automatically downgraded by one grade level for that running only. The Committee then reviews the race within five days and may restore the original grade. For example, a Grade I turf race that is switched to the dirt will be recorded as a Grade II race, unless the committee feels the quality of the race was sufficient to warrant Grade I.
In the United States and Canada, a graded race can be dormant for one year without losing its grade.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the events shown below may have been rescheduled or not run at all in 2020. The purse for some events may also have been altered.
|Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap||Saratoga||July||6||Dirt||3+||$350,000|
|American Oaks||Santa Anita||December||9||Turf||3||F||$300,000|
|American Pharoah Stakes[b]||Santa Anita||September||8.5||Dirt||2||$300,000|
|Apple Blossom Handicap||Oaklawn||April||8.5||Dirt||4+||F/M||$700,000|
|Arlington Million Stakes||Arlington||August||10||Turf||3+||$1,000,000|
|Awesome Again Stakes||Santa Anita||September||9||Dirt||3+||$300,000|
|Beholder Mile Stakes||Santa Anita||March||8||Dirt||3+||F/M||$400,000|
|Beverly D. Stakes||Arlington||August||9.5||Turf||3+||F/M||$700,000|
|Bing Crosby Handicap||Del Mar||July||6||Dirt||3+||$300,000|
|Breeders' Cup Classic||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||10||Dirt||3+||$6,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||8||Dirt||3+||$1,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Distaff||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||9||Dirt||3+||F/M||$2,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||7||Dirt||3+||F/M||$1,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||11||Turf||3+||F/M||$2,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||8.5||Dirt||2||C/G||$2,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||8.5||Dirt||2||F||$2,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||8||Turf||2||F||$1,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||8||Turf||2||C/G||$1,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Mile||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||8||Turf||3+||$2,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Sprint||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||6||Dirt||3+||$1,500,000|
|Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||5.5||Turf||3+||$1,000,000|
|Breeders' Cup Turf||(Rotates location)||Oct./Nov.||12||Turf||3+||$4,000,000|
|Breeders' Futurity Stakes||Keeneland||October||8.5||Dirt||2||$500,000|
|Cigar Mile Handicap||Aqueduct||November||8||Dirt||3+||$750,000|
|Churchill Downs Stakes||Churchill Downs||May||7||Dirt||4+||$500,000|
|Clark Handicap||Churchill Downs||November||9||Dirt||3+||$500,000|
|Clement L. Hirsch Stakes||Del Mar||July||8.5||Dirt||3+||F/M||$300,000|
|Coaching Club American Oaks||Saratoga||July||9||Dirt||3||F||$300,000|
|Del Mar Debutante Stakes||Del Mar||September||7||Dirt||2||F||$300,000|
|Del Mar Futurity||Del Mar||September||7||Dirt||2||$300,000|
|Del Mar Oaks||Del Mar||August||9||Turf||3||F||$300,000|
|First Lady Stakes||Keeneland||October||8||Turf||3+||F/M||$400,000|
|Florida Derby||Gulfstream Park||Mar./Apr.||9||Dirt||3||$1,000,000|
|Flower Bowl Stakes||Saratoga||September||11||Turf||3+||F/M||$600,000|
|Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap||Santa Anita||March||8||Turf||4+||$400,000|
|Gamely Stakes||Santa Anita||May||9||Turf||3+||F/M||$300,000|
|Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes||Santa Anita||May||10||Dirt||3+||$500,000|
|H. Allen Jerkens||Saratoga||August||7||Dirt||3||$500,000|
|Haskell Invitational Stakes||Monmouth||July/Aug.||9||Dirt||3||$1,000,000|
|Hollywood Derby||Del Mar||November||9||Turf||3||$300,000|
|Humana Distaff Handicap||Churchill Downs||May||7||Dirt||4+||F/M||$300,000|
|Jenny Wiley Stakes||Keeneland||April||8.5||Turf||4+||F/M||$300,000|
|Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes||Belmont||October||10||Dirt||3+||$750,000|
|Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational Stakes||Belmont||September||12||Turf||3+||$500,000|
|Just A Game Handicap||Belmont||June||8||Turf||4+||F/M||$700,000|
|Kentucky Derby||Churchill Downs||May||10||Dirt||3||$3,000,000|
|Kentucky Oaks||Churchill Downs||Apr./May||9||Dirt||3||F||$1,250,000|
|La Brea Stakes||Santa Anita||December||7||Dirt||3||F||$300,000|
|La Troienne Stakes||Churchill Downs||Apr./May||8.5||Dirt||3+||F/M||$300,000|
|Maker's 46 Mile Stakes||Keeneland||April||8||Turf||4+||$300,000|
|Malibu Stakes||Santa Anita||December||7||Dirt||3||$300,000|
|Man o' War Stakes||Belmont||May||11||Turf||3+||$400,000|
|Matriarch Stakes||Del Mar||November||8||Turf||3+||F/M||$300,000|
|Ogden Phipps Handicap||Belmont||June||8.5||Dirt||3+||F/M||$1,000,000|
|Pacific Classic Stakes||Del Mar||August||10||Dirt||3+||$1,000,000|
|Pegasus World Cup[c]||Gulfstream Park||January||9||Dirt||3+||$9,000,000|
|Pegasus World Cup Turf[d]||Gulfstream Park||January||9.5||Turf||4+||$7,000,000|
|Personal Ensign Stakes||Saratoga||August||9||Dirt||3+||F/M||$750,000|
|Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup Stakes||Keeneland||October||9||Turf||3||F||$500,000|
|Rodeo Drive Stakes||Santa Anita||September||10||Turf||3+||F/M||$300,000|
|Santa Anita Derby||Santa Anita||April||9||Dirt||3||$1,000,000|
|Santa Anita Handicap||Santa Anita||March||10||Dirt||4+||$500,000|
|Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes||Keeneland||October||8||Turf||3+||$1,000,000|
|Shoemaker Mile||Santa Anita||May/June||8||Turf||3+||$400,000|
|Starlet Stakes||Los Alamitos||December||8.5||Dirt||2||F||$300,000|
|Turf Classic Stakes||Churchill Downs||May||9||Turf||3+||$500,000|
|United Nations Stakes||Monmouth||July||11||Turf||3+||$300,000|
|Woody Stephens Stakes||Belmont Park||June||7||Dirt||3||$400,000|
The following races have been downgraded from Grade I status since 2010:
The Hopeful Stakes was downgraded from grade I to grade II for 2012 but regained the top rating in 2013
The following races were upgraded to Grade I status since 2010: