Two Kentucky Derby Week stakes races at Churchill Downs were granted higher graded status for their 2009 renewals as the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association issued its listing of U.S. Graded Stakes for 2009 on Tuesday.[asset|height=12|width=1]
The Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile, a one-mile turf race for fillies and mares ages three and up, was elevated from Grade III to Grade II status – one of 11 races at U.S. tracks that were raised to the Grade II level. The Derby Trial, which had lost its status as a Grade III event in 2005, was restored to that level for its 2009 running. The race was one of 10 contests elevated from Ungraded status in 2008. Now run one week before the Kentucky Derby on the opening day of Churchill Downs’ Spring Meet, the Derby Trial is regarded as the final significant prep race for the “Run for the Roses."
Now a fixture of the Kentucky Derby Day racing card, the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile dates to 1983 and was initially run as a race for 3-year-olds on dirt. Its conditions were adjusted several times until 1989, when the race was run for the first time under its current conditions as a one-mile event turf event for older fillies and mares.
The Derby Trial was run for the first time in 1924 and its first winner, Black Gold, also won the Kentucky Derby. The race was held for 57 years on the Tuesday before the Kentucky Derby and was a key final prep for several winners of America’s greatest race. Other horses that won both races include Triple Crown winner Citation (1948), Dark Star (1953), Tim Tam (1958) and Hill Gail (1952). Horses that failed to win the Derby Trial but returned to win the Kentucky Derby include Triple Crown winner Whirlaway (2nd in the 1941 Trial), Iron Liege (5th in 1957), Assault (4th in 1946), Ponder (2nd in 1949), Middleground (2nd in 1950), and Determine (2nd in 1954).
With the upgrades of the Churchill Downs Distaff Turf Mile and the Derby Trial, Churchill Downs will offer 37 graded stakes races on its 2009 stakes schedule. That includes five Grade I events, 10 Grade II races and 22 Grade III contests.
The Grade I events on the Churchill Downs stakes schedule in 2009 will include the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, the Kentucky Oaks, Stephen Foster Handicap, Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and Humana Distaff.
In assigning grades for U.S. stakes races 2009, the American Graded Stakes Committee reviewed 746 unrestricted races with purses of at least $75,000 and grades were issued to 488 of those events. The 2009 graded stakes total reflects an increase of seven from 2008.