The American Graded Stakes Committee was founded by TOBA in 1973 and has been managed by the organization for the last 46 years. The purpose of the committee 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.
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
The Blood-Horse, January 21, 1974
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.
Members of the TOBA American Graded Stakes Committee for the December 17 and 18, 2019 Grading Session were:
Representing the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association: Everett Dobson (chairman), Barbara Banke, Reynolds Bell, Jr., Craig Bernick, Walker Hancock and J. Michael O’Farrell.
Racing Officials Members: Kevin Greely, Ben Huffman, Steve Lym, Martin Panza and Tom Robbins.
Invited Guests: Carl Hamilton, Mike Lakow, Chris Merz, Chauncey Morris and Takahiro Uno.
A chairman is elected annually by the six TOBA Members. The chairman must have served as a TOBA Member of the Committee for at least two years.
In the absolute discretion of the chairman of the Committee, Guest Observers may be invited to attend Committee meetings. Guest Observers may not participate in the discussions or deliberations of the Committee without the consent of the chairman.
The grading of races is conducted at meetings duly called by the Chairman, usually in late November or early December. Other meetings are called as necessary. For the grading of races, committee members are provided information prepared by The Jockey Club Information Systems, Thoro-Graph and TOBA. Statistical information is provided for all races eligible to be graded, aiming at a Breeders’ Cup-to-Breeders’ Cup year. This information details statistics of graded and other eligible races. Amendments in extent and type of information may be directed from time to time by vote of the entire Committee and are put into effect pending appropriate funding and computer programming provisions.
All grades issued, denied, or altered are voted upon by a quorum of the Committee at a duly called meeting. A quorum, for the purpose of grading races, is a majority of TOBA members on the Committee and a majority of Racing Officials on the Committee. Eight affirmative votes are required to upgrade any race and six affirmative votes are required to downgrade a race.
Criteria for Consideration for Grading
To aid the Committee in determining which races should be considered for grading, the Committee has adopted the following criteria for screening American races:
Purse requirement – A race is not considered for grading unless it is scheduled to have a total purse value (excluding state-bred supplements) of at least $75,000 for Listed and eligible, ungraded, $100,000 for Grade III, $200,000 for Grade II, and $300,000 for Grade I.
Drug testing – A race is not considered for grading unless the testing performed on the samples collected from the horses selected from the race meets or exceeds the guidelines in the committee’s drug testing protocol.
Medication – Races are ineligible for grading if, at a minimum, the provisions of the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules on androgenic-anabolic steriods and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are not adopted.
Longevity – Races are not graded unless they have had two previous runnings under fundamentally the same conditions, for the same division of horses, and meeting the minimum purse requirements.
Restricted races – Races will be ineligible for grading if conditions for competing in them include restrictive provisions relative to which horses may enter, other than by sex or age. A race is regarded as a restricted race if any of its conditions for entry would tend to exclude better horses while allowing participation by lesser horses. Beginning in 2018, races restricted to non-winners of a sweepstakes and meeting all other eligibility requirements are eligible for Listed status.
Preference conditions – Preference conditions should be written to industry acceptable standards, i.e. high weights, graded wins/placings, graded earnings, points from graded wins/placings, etc., with the goal of achieving the highest quality field. Deviating from standard preference practices may result in fields of less quality, which could lead to downgrading through the graded stakes review process.
Invitational races – Not all invitational races carry all the strict definitions of stakes race entry fees, but are eligible for grading if the added or guaranteed money meets the minimum purse requirements and the race satisfies all other criteria.
Changes in conditions by racetrack management – If a graded or eligible race is altered materially in age, sex, eligibility, racetrack location, or purse, or is substantially changed on the calendar (30 or more days), this will prompt a review and may result in a change in grade. (If it is regarded as a new race, it must be run two years before it can be considered for grading.) If a race is not run for two or more years or has not run in two of the last three years, it is ineligible for grading. If a race is scheduled to be moved from dirt to turf or vice versa, or if its distance is altered (a) by more than one-eighth mile, or (b) from sprint distance (less than one mile) to route distance (one mile or greater) or vice versa, it will be considered a new race and is ineligible for grading until run twice under the new conditions. However, the Committee will review any such change and may decide to restore a race’s eligibility. Stakes races that are eligible for grading must appear in the track’s published (electronic and/or print) stakes book before the beginning of the meet with their run date and full conditions. “Overnight” races are not eligible for grading.
The committee will consider, on a case-by-case basis, applications from racing associations seeking to retain the Graded status of a race proposed for relocation to a different venue, provided that the new venue is in the same region as the old racetrack and the name, conditions, calendar date and purse of the relocated event are substantially similar to previous years.
Forced changes in track surface and splitting of races – A race which has been given a grade is not penalized for that running if it is split into divisions (unless the total purse for all divisions is less than 150% of the original purse). If turf course conditions prompt its being changed to a non-grass course after the close of nominations, the race is automatically downgraded by one grade level for that running only; however, the Committee will review the race within five (5) days of its running and may restore its prior grade for that running.
Official finish positions – Only one horse shall be deemed to finish in each of the win, place and show positions of a race, unless there is a dead heat. Dead heat shall mean that a horse is officially placed first, second or third with one or more horses in the applicable race because the horses are determined to physically reach the finish line at the same time, after consideration of any inquiry, objection, disqualification or appeal. In the event more than one horse is deemed to finish in any of the win, place and show positions absent a dead heat, the committee shall retroactively strip the race of its graded or listed status.
Non-Quantitative Objective Factors
No matter how thorough the statistical information, Committee members must bring knowledge and judgment to bear on their decisions. The following are examples of a few of the situations requiring such judgment, rather than strict adherence to mathematical information:
Small fields sometimes can be looked upon as indication of a poor event, but it must be remembered also that small fields may be the result of exceptional quality.
Turf races are subject to being switched to dirt for safety in cases of heavy rainfall. Statistics for such non-turf renewals are excluded from consideration, and Committee members will tend to throw out these runnings in their personal evaluation of the race.
Some changes in a race are minor, or are obviously intended to improve it. Among changes which might take place without mandatory change in grade status include, but are not limited to, increase in purse, small decrease in purse, minor alteration in distance, change from allowance stakes to scale weights, change of date (less than 30 days), change of name.
Strength of the division will also be considered. If the Committee considers that a race takes on special importance because it is one of the few of its kind (e.g., sprint for older females), such a race might be graded higher than a race that has similar statistics but is one of many in its own category.
Total number of graded races and the distribution of particular grades among the races are monitored by the Committee to retain the approximate shape of a pyramid, i.e., Grade I races being the least numerous, Grade II races next, and Grade III races the most numerous.
Explanation of Grading Session Workbook
Over time, the TOBA American Graded Stakes Committee (AGSC) has determined that a variety of objective measurements of race quality should be presented in detail and summary form in its Grading Session Workbook. These measurements now fall into two general categories: best achievement in graded and unrestricted black-type stakes events in the 24 months before and after the race, and best annual racing performance as measured by NARC Rating.
Achievement in graded and unrestricted black-type events (denoted in the Workbook by POINTS, PERCENTAGE GRADED STAKES WINNERS, and QUALITY POINTS) provides the grading process with a desired historical continuity as well as a means of recognizing high achievement across divisions. At the same time, the Committee recognizes that these measurements tend to support the self-perpetuation of graded events, an effect that can compromise the evaluation process while magnifying the consequences of all grading decisions.
Counterbalancing achievement measurements, the Committee has incorporated NARC Ratings as a way of identifying exceptional racing performance without a necessary reliance on prior grading decisions. NARC RATES, which consolidate the NARC Ratings of individual racehorses, provide the grading process with a narrower appraisal of a race renewal – specific to racing year, distance, and surface – while correlating the American grading system with the techniques employed by international grading organizations. At the same time, the Committee recognizes that NARC RATES are wholly dependent on the fallible methods and art of a small group of racing professionals.
The 2019 Grading Session Workbook therefore represents the Committee’s latest best effort to provide itself with the least imperfect array of “hard data” to aid, inform, and support an evaluation process that must finally depend on the integrity, experience, and judgment of the Committee members themselves. The calculations can supplement, but cannot supplant, the collective wisdom of the Committee.
The American Graded Stakes Committee grades races in 15 divisions, evaluating the quality of the field of each eligible race in a given division relative to the quality of the field of other races in that division. These divisions are:
Two-year-old Fillies (2YO F)
Three-year-old Route, Dirt (3YO R D)
Three-year-old Route, Turf (3YO R T)
Three-year-old Sprint (3YO SPR)
Three-year-old Filly Route, Dirt (3YO F R D)
Three-year-old Filly Route, Turf (3YO F R T)
Three-year-old Filly Sprint (3YO F SPR)
Three-year-old & Up Route, Dirt (3&UP R D)
Three-year-old & Up Route, Turf (3&UP R T)
Three-year-old & Up Sprint (3&UP SPR)
Three-year-old & Up Fillies & Mares Route, Dirt (3&UP F/M R D)
Three-year-old & Up Fillies & Mares Route, Turf (3&UP F/M R T)
Three-year-old & Up Fillies & Mares Sprint (3&UP F/M SPR)
Three-year-old & Up Turf Sprint (3&UP T SPR)
The quality of a race is evaluated using:
Stakes performance of all horses in the field in the 24 months before and after the race, and
Annual classification ratings of the four highest-rated horses in the field.
A. Stakes Performance
Stakes performance is measured in three ways:
POINTS (reflecting field-horses’ 1-2-3 finishes in all unrestricted black-type events);
PERCENTAGE of Graded Stakes Winners in the field;
QUALITY POINTS (number of Grade I, II, and III winners in the field)
Stake performance measurements indicate the highest level of performance achieved by every horse in the field through the year of the most recent renewal of the race in question. (If the most recent renewal was prior to 2019, the lifetime cut-off date is December 31 of that year; if the most recent renewal was in 2019, the cut-off date is November 4, 2019.) Stakes performance measurements are not specific to AGSC Division or NARC category: they show the highest achievement of each horse regardless of age or type of race.
B. Annual Classification Ratings
Annual classification ratings are the product of the North American Rating Committee, a panel of five racing secretaries operating under the auspices of The Jockey Club, TOBA, Breeders’ Cup Limited and the World’s Best Racehorse Ratings Committee. Similar to handicap ratings, these measurements reflect the best performance achieved by each horse in the field of the race, during the year of that renewal of the race. NARC Ratings are specific to year. The NARC RATE of a race renewal is the average of the four highest NARC Ratings in that renewal.
These four measurements (POINTS, %GSW, QUALITY POINTS, and NARC Ratings) make up the objective elements of the American Graded Stakes Committee’s grading process. A detailed presentation of these measurements for each of up to five most recent renewals of every eligible race is displayed on the RACE PAGE for each eligible race. The averages of each of these measurements (sum of each measurement over every renewal, divided by the number of renewals), for every eligible race in the division, are displayed on the workbook INDEX PAGE for each AGSC Division.