What Is A Graded Stakes race?

When we preview races here at the Daily Racing Blog we often refer to the horses’ past performances and as such we indicate some of the races in which they have participated. Which for many of the upper echelon of horses means Graded Stakes races.

We indicate those races as such; Travers Stakes (G1). But for those unfamiliar with the sport, the G1 probably doesn’t resonate. So what is a Graded Stakes race, you might ask?

In the U.S. a Graded Stakes race is a horse race that meets standards outlined by the American Graded Stakes Committee. Once a horse race meets the initial requirements, it is given a ranking of 1, 2, or 3.

The races are ranked based on the quality of the field of runners and the amount of the purse. Other countries have a similar system. In the UK these types of races are referred to as Group races.

The grading system was designed in 1973 and first published in 1974. The original purpose of grading was to identify the most competitive races, which helps horsemen make comparisons of the relative quality of bloodstock for breeding and sales purposes. 

A high grading can also be used by racetracks to promote the race in question.

The following factors are used to determine if a horse race is eligible to be a Graded Stakes race:

  • Minimum purse requirement. For a Grade 3- $100,000, for a Grade 2- $200,000, for a Grade 1- $300,000.
  • Consistency of the race. The race has been run for two years under similar conditions.
  • Restriction to age and sex only.
  • Strict rules to regulate drug testing after the race, including examination by a government authority
  • Drug use limitations. The model rules are adhered to which govern steroids and non-steroid drug use. This is the minimum which allows only Boldenone, Nandrolone, Stanozolol, and Testosterone.

In the United States, a Stakes race can be dormant for one year without losing its Grade.

Because a race meets some factors of a Graded race doesn’t mean it will be classified in that group. For example, a competition with a purse of $350,000 is not automatically a Grade 1 race.

Offering purses higher than the Graded stakes requirements are not a rare occurrence.

The reason for offering higher payouts is that better horses are more likely to compete; and track officials want to bring in high-quality horses so the race will move up in classification in the future.

As a rule, Stakes Race refers to the stake, or entry fee, owners must pay, which generally forms part of the prize money offered to the top finishers.

Not all Stakes races are eligible for grading. Notably, races that are restricted to horses bred in a specific state (New York-breds for example) are excluded, regardless of the purse or quality of field.

Conversely, some races that are not technically Stakes races (usually invitational races where entry fees are not required by the racetrack) may be eligible for grading if they meet the quality standards.

Now you know

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