By Bill Finley
The American Graded Stakes Committee released its list of graded stakes for 2023 Friday and it includes five races that were downgraded from Grade I status to Grade II races, including two of NYRA's more prestigious races for older dirt horses, the Woodward and the Cigar Mile H. Also dropping down from the Grade I to the Grade II level were the Clark S. at Churchill Downs, the Starlet S. at Los Alamitos and the Rodeo Drive S. at Santa Anita.
The Woodward was, perhaps, the most surprising inclusion on the list of newly appointed Grade II races. Twenty winners of the race have made their way into the Hall of Fame, including Kelso, Buckpasser, Forego, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid and Cigar. But the race has struggled somewhat in recent years as the NYRA racing department tried to figure out where it fit best on the calendar on how to juggle a glut of late summer-early fall races for the handicap division, including the GI Jockey Club Gold Cup. In 2006, the Woodward was moved from Belmont Park to Saratoga. The race was moved back to Belmont in 2021, trading places with the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which was switched to Saratoga. This year's Woodward was won by a top horse in Life Is Good (Into Mischief), but the race drew only four horses and the three challengers to Life Is Good were a fairly weak lot.
The Cigar Mile was inaugurated in 1988 and initially run as the NYRA Mile. Winners include Forty Niner, Cigar, Tonalist (Tapit) and Maximum Security (New Year's Day). This year's race did not come up particularly strong as Mind Control (Stay Thirsty) beat five others.
A total of 97 Grade I races will be contested in 2023.
The committee reviewed 901 stakes races and assigned graded status to 440 of them, nine fewer than were graded in 2022.
Three races were upgraded to Grade II's, the Beaumont S., the Franklin S. and the Ladies Sprint S. Seven races were downgraded from Grade II to Grade III status for 2023: the Sorrento S. at Del Mar; Dinner Party S. at Pimlico; Monrovia S., San Carlos S., San Marcos S. and Santa Ynez S. at Santa Anita Park; and Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs. Four races were upgraded to Grade III status for 2023: the Manila S. at Belmont Park; Blame S. and Shawnee S. at Churchill Downs; and Music City S. at Kentucky Downs. Twelve races were downgraded from Grade III to Listed status for 2023.