Churchill's Clark Handicap gets Grade I status for 2010

Churchill Downs' Clark Handicap, the signature event of the track's Fall Meet, was among three races elevated to Grade I status for 2010, the American Graded Stakes Committee announced Thursday.

The Clark Handicap for horses 3-years-old and up was run as a Grade I in 2006 when Premium Tap won, only to be downgraded back to Grade II status the following season.

Despite taking place less than a month after the Breeders' Cup World Championships, the 11⁄8-mile Clark has consistently drawn top fields, including this year's contest won by Blame and featuring three Grade I winners in Einstein, Bullsbay and Macho Again.

"We're thrilled, and we greatly appreciate the work the committee did in reaching that decision," said John Asher, vice president of racing communications for Churchill Downs. "Quite frankly, we think it never should have lost its Grade I status a couple years ago because we think it's been one of the best races for years now. It proves there is still great racing in America after the Breeders' Cup.

"We're glad to see it get the recognition and the status we think it deserves. Now it's up to us to keep it strong."

Oaklawn Park's Arkansas Derby, one of the major prep races on the Kentucky Derby trail, was also elevated to Grade I status as was the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

Overall, the committee reviewed 723 unrestricted U.S. stakes races with a purse of at least $75,000 and assigned graded status to 487 of them, two less than were graded in 2009.

A total of 15 graded races were upgraded, including the three new Grade I races, six new Grade II races, and six new Grade III races. Two races, the Frances A. Genter Stakes at Calder Race Course and the Safely Kept Stakes at Laurel Park, which were Grade III in 2009 are no longer graded races.

One of the key races to receive a grading for 2010 was the Sunland Derby, which will be run as a Grade III after being previously ungraded.

Mine That Bird, eventual winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby, ran fourth in the Sunland Derby this year.

Five races were downgraded from Grade I to Grade II for 2010: the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park; Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park; Go For Wand Handicap at Saratoga; John C. Mabee Stakes at Del Mar; and Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita Park.

Six races were upgraded to Grade II status for 2010, including the American Turf Stakes and Pocahontas Stakes at Churchill Downs, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, and the Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

The Jefferson Cup Stakes at Churchill Downs was among the 10 races downgraded from Grade II to Grade III for 2010.