According to the Paulick Report, “two historic races for 3-year-olds on the road to the Kentucky Derby – the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct – will be dropped from Grade 1 to Grade 2 status when the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association’s American Graded Stakes Committee announces its 2017 list of American Graded Stakes on Friday.”
As one might expect, this news had racing fans buzzing on social media today. But what does it really mean?
Nothing. Nil. Zilch.
Hey, both the Blue Grass and the Wood have been downgraded before. After a string of uninspiring winners in the 1990s — anybody remember Thirty Six Red and Irgun? — the Wood was demoted to Grade 2 status in 1995. It remained at that level until 2001, when the grading committee, apparently euphoric in the wake of Fusaichi Pegasus’ Kentucky Derby win the year before, again made the race a Grade I. Unfortunately, “FuPeg” was the last Wood winner to triumph in the Run for the Roses (although, to be fair, two likely Derby favorites — I Want Revenge and Eskendereya — were injured and never got to compete in Louisville on the first Saturday in May).
Likewise, after Blue Grass champ Western Playboy finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby in 1989 (the year Sunday Silence won the roses), the Keeneland fixture was made a Grade 2 event. Western Playboy went on to win the 1989 Pennsylvania Derby.
So, history aside, why do I say that these demotions mean nothing? Well, it’s because they mean nothing.
Look, the Road to the Kentucky Derby points, which determine eligibility for the big race, remain the same. The Wood and Blue Grass are still worth 100 big ones to the winner, same as the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby and Arkansas Derby — all Grade 1s — as well as the Grade II Louisiana Derby and the ungraded UAE Derby. (By the way, you know that hourglass icon that appears when one’s computer is busy and/or not responding? You can get the same effect by asking racing fans to name the last Kentucky Derby champ that won either the UAE Derby or the Louisiana Derby.)
Furthermore, in an ironic twist worthy of an O. Henry story, the Blue Grass winner went on to capture the Kentucky Derby four times during the nine nears it was a Grade 2 affair (which makes my point that grades do not always denote quality, but that is a topic for another day).