The most prominent race of Keeneland’s annual Spring Meet, the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, was downgraded from Grade I status to a Grade II event on Friday.
The American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association presented its annual listing of U.S. graded and listed stakes races for 2017.
The Committee reviewed 790 unrestricted U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000, and assigned graded status to 464 of them, the same as were graded in 2016, and listed status to 172 races. Five graded races were upgraded; eight new Grade III races were named; 23 new listed races were upgraded from non-listed status. Fourteen races that carried graded or listed status in 2016 are no longer eligible for grading.
The Blue Grass Stakes, which has been run at Keeneland since 1937, was not the only Kentucky Derby prep race to change status. The Wood Memorial Stakes at Aqueduct was also bumped from Grade I to Grade II for 2017.
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The Graded Stakes Committee reviews races each year based on the performances of horses who come out of those races.
The Blue Grass Stakes has not produced a Kentucky Derby winner since Street Sense in 2007. Two contenders from the 2016 Blue Grass, Brody’s Cause and My Man Sam ran in the Derby this year, finishing seventh and 11th, respectively. Keeneland has taken measures in recent years to attract stronger fields, including increasing the purse, moving the date of the race and changing the racing surface from synthetic to dirt.
“While we are disappointed that the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes has received a Grade II designation, Keeneland is committed to returning our centerpiece Kentucky Derby prep to its Grade I status,” said Bob Elliston, Keeneland’s vice president of racing and sales. “We are confident that the very recent investments made in our new state-of-art dirt surface, increasing the purse to $1 million and scheduling the race four weeks from the Kentucky Derby will continue to attract strong fields through the overwhelming support of our horsemen. Additionally, the race maintains its 100-point value for purposes of the Kentucky Derby-qualifying system.”
The Blue Grass has been a Grade I event since 1999. It was previously downgraded from Grade I to Grade II in 1990.
In addition to the Blue Grass and Wood Memorial downgrades, the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park also was dropped from Grade I to Grade II. One race was upgraded to Grade I: the $1.25 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing, a fall race for 3-year-olds.
The only other Keeneland race affected by Friday’s changes was the Woodford Stakes, run during the Fall Meet, which was upgraded to Grade II.