The American Graded Stakes Committee finally made the move that much of the racing public has been clamoring for the last few years. The Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, which has produced so many fine horses over the last several years, has been elevated from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1. Among the horses that have traveled through Oaklawn on the way to the Triple Crown races are 2004 Derby and Preakness winner, Smarty Jones, and 2005 Preakness and Belmont winner, Afleet Alex. Many times in recent memory the main contenders in the three races have stopped off at Oaklawn on their way to glory.
My main question about this one is, "What the devil took so long?" Any racing fan worth their salt knows that the Arkansas Derby has been on an even plane with the other prep races for the Kentucky Derby that are Grade 1s, like the Blue Grass Stakes, the Wood Memorial, and the Santa Anita Derby. I understand that the way the field of twenty for the Kentucky Derby is determined by overall graded stakes earnings, so it really is inconsequential. However, it does make a difference when it comes to things like the breeding shed, where sires are significantly upgraded when they win a Grade 1 as opposed to a Grade 2. I, for one, am glad that the Committee has woken up and given the Arkansas Derby the recognition it has long deserved.
There were two other races that the Committee upgraded to Grade 1 status, the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga. Also, the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park, where Mine That Bird ran fourth en route to his historic win in the 2009 Kentucky Derby, went from ungraded to Grade 3.
Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!