How Do Stakes Races Become Graded?

How Do Stakes Races Become Graded?

By: Shannel Cacho


In Thoroughbred racing there are several different kinds of races, however the goal of most trainers and owners is to get their horses to win stakes races, more specifically graded stakes races. Graded stakes races are the races where the highest quality racehorses compete against one another, in order to increase not only their winnings but also their potential as bloodstock. In order for a race to become listed or graded, it has to go through a committee and meet several requirements before it can obtain that status.


The committee that is in charge of annually meeting to evaluate the quality of the races throughout the United States, and what status they should obtain or retain is the American Graded Stakes Committee (AGSC) that was founded by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) in 1973. The AGSC has various criteria that they use to determine the grade of the races. According to the TOBA website, the purpose of the AGSC is “To provide owners and breeders of Thoroughbred horses a reliable guide to the relative quality of Thoroughbred bloodstock by identifying those races whose recent renewals have consistently attracted the highest quality competition.”


So what are the different “grades” of stakes races? The AGSC gives four different “grades”, ranked from lowest to highest: listed, Grade III (GIII), Grade II (GII), and Grade I (I). Listed is the lowest grade that a stakes race can be given from the committee. Listed races are races that have a purse of at least $50,000 or more. One of the criteria for a race to be considered for grading is the total amount of the planned purse, this amount cannot include any supplements or incentives from state-bred programs. For instance the minimum purse requirements for graded races are as follows. GIII races must have a purse of at least $100,000, GII races must have a purse of at least $200,000, and GI races must have a purse of at least $300,000. Another criteria that have to be met in order for a race to eligible for grading is that it must have been run for two consecutive years. For those of you wondering about the Pegasus World Cup and how it was considered a Grade I race its inaugural year, let me explain.


In 2017, the Pegasus World Cup was considered a Grade I race, because it inherited the status of the Donn Handicap, a race which is no longer being run. The Pegasus was able to do this because one of the rules that the AGSC has is that newly established races have the ability to essentially inherit the graded status of a race that is no longer being run if the race is held at the same facility and has the exact same restrictions as the race it is replacing. The restrictions of the race such as the age group and sex have to be the same, because if the race was held specifically for two year old fillies, and the “new” race wants to hold a race for fillies four years old and up you now have different restrictions and a very different race than the original race. Restrictions such as age and sex of the horse are the only restrictions that are allowed for graded stakes races.


Another issue that may arise when determining the grade of a race is if that race is a turf race. For turf races it is not uncommon for the track conditions to cause the turf race to get moved onto the main track. If the Breeder’s Cup Turf Juvenile had to get moved to the main track, and no longer be a turf race it would automatically be downgraded one level (in this instance from a GI to a GII) for that particular running of the race. However when this occurs the AGSC will meet within five days of the running of the race and they will determine whether or not they want to restore the original grade back to the race.


At the end of the day the grading system for stakes races, gives everyone a standard that they can hold bloodstock to when evaluating them for different purposes, whether it is in regards to breeding or sales. A horse that wins a stakes race will typically increase its value, however a horse that wins a listed stakes will not be as highly sought after as a horse that consistently wins GII races.