Giving 'L' Legitimacy - Eric Mitchell

The winnowing of graded and listed black-type stakes in the United States continues.

Last week the American Graded Stakes Committee released its list of 645 graded and listed stakes for 2014. The total is nearly 11% fewer than was recognized in 2010. Over the past five years the number of graded stakes has dipped from 487 to 455 while the number of listed stakes has slid from 236 to 190.

One of the new dynamics this year in awarding black type is a requirement by the North American International Catalogue Standard Committee that all listed stakes be evaluated in the same manner as graded stakes. In 2012 the AGSC and the Canadian Graded Stakes Committee only identified listed stakes needing to be downgraded. This year’s evaluation session provided the first opportunity for listed races to be upgraded or downgraded.

Previously, a North American listed stakes only had to be an open stakes offering a purse of $75,000 or more to qualify for black-type status. Now a listed stakes is evaluated by the percentage of graded stakes winners and graded stakes runners it has been attracting and its five-year North American Racing Committee rating. The NARC rating is a compilation of scores assigned to a race by five racing secretaries around the country.

Listed races consistently failing to draw quality fields may be downgraded to non-listed black-type stakes. Once in the non-listed realm, a race has to maintain a minimum Race Quality Score (see an explanation in the Nov. 30 “What’s Going on Here”) for at least two consecutive years or risk losing black-type status.

“It is difficult,” said Dr. J. David Richardson, AGSC chairman, about the new requirement to evaluate listed stakes. “With grade Is and IIs you have an idea in your mind of what that kind of race should look like. With the listed races, if they are in locales where horses are not moving in and out, then it is difficult to compare. There are circuits unto themselves that make it hard.”

No huge changes were made among the listed stakes for next year. Thirty-one non-listed races got upgraded to listed stakes for 2014 and only 16 listed stakes were downgraded to non-listed stakes (races with a purse of at least $50,000 that is either open or has one of four allowable restrictions). Twenty-eight stakes lost their black-type status, but it had nothing to do with the evaluation; the races were no longer eligible for black type because either they had not been run in two years, a significant change occurred with a condition of the race, or the purse had fallen below the minimum. One of these races is the Calder Derby, which used to be a turf race and will now be run on Calder Casino & Race Course’s main track.

In the end, evaluating listed stakes has the same goal as the new system that monitors non-listed stakes quality with the automated RQS scoring system—establishing a benchmark for quality.

Some have criticized the new evaluation system for penalizing state-bred programs by taking away black type. Actually, the system could bolster state-bred programs that keep the quality of their programs high. Rather than be suspicious of a restricted race knowing the track has gaming machines capable of artificially inflating purses, now the black-type status has some weight behind it in terms of quality.

The same goes for the listed stakes.

“We want to make sure the races that have an ‘L’ are better than the ones that don’t have an ‘L,’ ” Richardson said. “We have to continuously look at what black type means for people breeding horses. People need to realize that the ‘L’ is a grade and has meaning.”


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