Graded stakes race

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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.[1] 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:[1]

  • Have a purse of at least $75,000 for a listed race, $100,000 for Grade III, $200,000 for Grade II, and $300,000 for Grade I.
  • Have been run for two years under fundamentally the same conditions. (The race's distance for example may be slightly altered, but age and sex conditions may not.)
  • Restrict entries only by age and sex. For example, a race may be restricted to three-year-old fillies and be eligible for grading. However, races that are restricted by where the horse is bred are not eligible for grading.
  • Have post-race drug testing managed by a governmental authority.
  • Follow rules for androgenic-anabolic steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, allowing only Boldenone, Nandrolone, Stanozolol, and testosterone. (This is a minimum standard; some racing jurisdictions have even higher restrictions on medications)

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.[2][3] They have also discussed a phase-out on the race day use of furosemide (Lasix).[4]

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.[5]


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.

U.S. graded stakes races[edit]

Grade I (2020)[edit]

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.

Race Track Month Furlongs Track Age Sex[a] Purse
Acorn Stakes Belmont June 8 Dirt 3 F $700,000
Alabama Stakes Saratoga August 10 Dirt 3 F $600,000
Alcibiades Stakes Keeneland October 8.5 Dirt 2 F $400,000
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
Arkansas Derby Oaklawn April 9 Dirt 3 $1,000,000
Arlington Million Stakes Arlington August 10 Turf 3+ $1,000,000
Ashland Stakes Keeneland April 8.5 Dirt 3 F $500,000
Awesome Again Stakes Santa Anita September 9 Dirt 3+ $300,000
Ballerina Stakes Saratoga August 7 Dirt 3+ F/M $500,000
Beholder Mile Stakes Santa Anita March 8 Dirt 3+ F/M $400,000
Belmont Derby Belmont July 10 Turf 3 $1,000,000
Belmont Oaks Belmont July 10 Turf 3 F $750,000
Belmont Stakes Belmont June 12 Dirt 3 $1,500,000
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
Carter Handicap Aqueduct April 7 Dirt 3+ $400,000
Champagne Stakes Belmont October 8 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
Cotillion Stakes Parx September 8.5 Dirt 3 F $1,000,000
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
Diana Stakes Saratoga July 9 Turf 3+ F/M $500,000
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
Forego Stakes Saratoga August 7 Dirt 3+ $700,000
Fourstardave Handicap Saratoga August 8 Turf 3+ $500,000
Frank E. Kilroe Mile Handicap Santa Anita March 8 Turf 4+ $400,000
Frizette Stakes Belmont October 8 Dirt 2 F $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
Hopeful Stakes Saratoga September 7 Dirt 2 $350,000
Humana Distaff Handicap Churchill Downs May 7 Dirt 4+ F/M $300,000
Jaipur Invitational Belmont June 6 Turf 4+ $400,000
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
Madison Stakes Keeneland April 7 Dirt 4+ 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
Manhattan Handicap Belmont June 10 Turf 4+ $1,000,000
Matriarch Stakes Del Mar November 8 Turf 3+ F/M $300,000
Metropolitan Handicap Belmont June 8 Dirt 3+ $1,250,000
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
Pennsylvania Derby Parx September 9 Dirt 3 $1,000,000+
Personal Ensign Stakes Saratoga August 9 Dirt 3+ F/M $750,000
Preakness Stakes Pimlico May 9.5 Dirt 3 $1,500,000
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
Secretariat Stakes Arlington August 10 Turf 3 $450,000
Shadwell Turf Mile Stakes Keeneland October 8 Turf 3+ $1,000,000
Shoemaker Mile Santa Anita May/June 8 Turf 3+ $400,000
Spinaway Stakes Saratoga September 7 Dirt 2 F $350,000
Spinster Stakes Keeneland October 9 Dirt 3+ F/M $500,000
Starlet Stakes Los Alamitos December 8.5 Dirt 2 F $300,000
Sword Dancer Saratoga August 12 Turf 3+ $1,000,000
Test Stakes Saratoga August 7 Dirt 3 F $500,000
Travers Stakes Saratoga August 10 Dirt 3 $1,250,000
Turf Classic Stakes Churchill Downs May 9 Turf 3+ $500,000
United Nations Stakes Monmouth July 11 Turf 3+ $300,000
Whitney Handicap Saratoga August 9 Dirt 3+ $1,250,000
Woodward Stakes Saratoga September 9 Dirt 3+ $600,000
Woody Stephens Stakes Belmont Park June 7 Dirt 3 $400,000
  1. ^ C/G=Colts and Geldings; F=Fillies; F/M=Fillies and Mares. If blank, the race is open.
  2. ^ Renamed from FrontRunner Stakes prior to its 2018 edition.
  3. ^ Inherited its Grade I ranking from the now discontinued Donn Handicap
  4. ^ Inherited its Grade I ranking from the now discontinued Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap

Grade I changes since 2010[edit]

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[8]

The Donn Handicap was discontinued after its 2016 edition; its Grade I status was transferred to the Pegasus World Cup, which held its first edition in 2017

Delaware Handicap was upgraded to grade 1 status in 2013 but was downgraded back to grade 2 in 2018[13]

The following races were upgraded to Grade I status since 2010:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Graded Stakes". Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  2. ^ "Graded Stakes Tied to Adoption of Rules". Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  3. ^ "Committee Calls for Ban on Certain Toe Grabs". Retrieved 14 August 2016.
  4. ^ "Phase-Out of Lasix in Graded Stakes Discussed". Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  5. ^ "Pegasus World Cup to Carry Grade I Status". The Blood-Horse. July 22, 2016. Retrieved August 26, 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Graded and Listed Races for 2019 Released". Retrieved 1 December 2018.
  7. ^ a b c d "Blue Grass, Wood Memorial Downgraded". Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Delaware Handicap, Hopeful Now Grade I". Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  9. ^ a b c "TOBA Announces U.S. Graded and Listed Stakes". Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Four New Grade I Stakes for 2012". Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  11. ^ a b "2011 Graded Stakes: 13 Fewer Than '10". Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  12. ^ a b c "Eight Stakes Elevated in Status for 2014". Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  13. ^ "AGSC Announces U.S. Graded and Listed Stakes for 2018". Retrieved 11 April 2018.

External links[edit]


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