Members' Guide 2016
An Explanation of the American Graded Stakes Process
Why bother? Why try to remember which race is better than, or inferior to, another?
Because to improve the breed, to upgrade a broodmare band, to select a stallion, to understand a catalogue page, to evaluate a family - one must be able to recognize racing class.
- Kent Hollingsworth, Editor
This Guide to the American Graded Stakes process is provided to all interested parties in the Thoroughbred industry as an aid to understanding the Committee's work. The purpose of the American Graded Stakes Committee is to provide owners and breeders of Thoroughbred horses a reliable guide to the relative quality of Thoroughbred bloodstock by identifying those U.S. races whose recent renewals have consistently attracted the highest quality competition. The Committee meets annually to evaluate and affirm the relative quality of these races, and issues its collective opinion in the form of ranked Grades: Grade I, Grade II, Grade III and Listed, with Grade I being the highest. Horses winning these graded races may reliably be considered as superior racing stock, and the breeding stock producing them as superior breeding stock.
The grading of races began as a TOBA project in 1973, primarily at the request of European authorities anxious that North America have a method, similar to their Pattern race system implemented in 1972, for identifying the highest quality black-type events. In January, 1974, The Blood-Horse published the first list of 330 North American Graded Stakes. This list was immediately incorporated into Weatherby’s Pattern Race book for the English Jockey Club; Fasig-Tipton Co. incorporated North American grades in its catalogues in 1975; Keeneland Association followed suit in 1976; the Daily Racing Form adopted grade-listings in 1978. In 1981 international auction houses and national breeders organizations and racing authorities formed the International Cataloguing Standards Committee "to achieve uniformity of cataloguing standards throughout the world," recognizing the TOBA North American Graded Stakes Committee as the grading authority for North American races. (In 1998, Canadian authorities received ICSC authority to grade Canadian races independently, and the TOBA Committee became the American Graded Stakes Committee.)
Broad acceptance of the graded stakes system allows its potential use for promotional and other purposes. Racetracks may benefit from having their races graded, just as a graded win may increase a racehorse’s value. While the Committee recognizes that individuals and organizations may utilize grading for purposes beyond the Committee’s own, such uses play no role in the grading process. As was true at the beginning of the grading project in 1973, the Committee’s aim is to identify and assess those races which over a stated period have attracted the highest importance and quality of field – quality herein defined in terms of the relative of excellence of participating horses.
Despite the European connection to the origin of grading races and the international application of U.S. grades, it must be kept in mind that our racing differs fundamentally from racing in other countries: in most countries, stakes events are set forth by a central authority, and changes to major fixtures are made under the aegis of a central governing body. U.S. racing, however, is de-centralized, and no such uniform control can exist. U.S. racing and stakes programs are dynamic products of regulatory, contractual, and competitive conditions in many local and regional environments. The U.S. grading system is designed to accommodate the flexibility and dynamism of U.S. racing; a grading system that could not quickly respond to our ever-changing conditions would never be appropriate in our country.
Judgment and flexibility thus must always be a part of the system.