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Last week the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association released the results of its annual grading session in Lexington, KY. The committee examined 659 unrestricted stakes races in their review. The stakes needed to have purses of at least $75,000 to be considered.

Of the 659 stakes races reviewed this year, 465 were given graded status, dropping the total of graded stakes in the US to nine fewer than the previous year. Thirteen stakes races saw upgrades to their statuses, including four new Grade I races, five new Grade II races, and four new Grade III races.

The biggest news of the changes are the upgrades from Grade II to Grade I. Two Breeders’ Cup Championship races were upgraded, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. The other two races that will see Grade I status in 2012 are the Jenny Wiley Stakes held at Keeneland and the Cotillion Stakes held at Parx Racing. Also of note, Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, saw its Derby Week Alysheba Stakes upgraded from Grade III to Grade II.

Of the downgraded races, the Hopeful Stakes held at Saratoga, was probably the biggest surprise going from Grade I to Grade II. The Hopeful has traditionally been the first Grade I of the year for 2-year-olds and has been part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series with winners earning a berth into the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The downgrade leaves Saratoga with no Grade I race for 2-year-old males.