By Jim Freer
The Hillsborough Stakes, a turf race for fillies and mares at Tampa Bay Downs, has been raised from Grade 3 to Grade 2 status for 2016.
The American Graded Stakes Committee of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association announced that change on Friday.
That committee also announced that the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes, run at Gulfstream Park, will be elevated to Grade 3 status for 2016.
The 2015 renewal of the Harlan’s Holiday will be this Saturday Dec. 19 and will be ungraded. The race is 1 1/16 miles on dirt for 3-year-olds and up.
There were no other graded stakes changes for either track.
In 2016, Gulfstream will have 38 graded stakes and Tampa Bay will have six graded stakes.
The Hillsborough is 1 1/8 miles on turf for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up. It was first run in 1999 and attained Grade 3 status in 2004.
Tampa Bay Downs will raise the purse for the 2016 Hillsborough to $200,000 from $150,000 to comply with TOBA graded-stakes requirements.
The race will be run on March 12 as part of the annual Festival Day card, which includes the $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby (Grade 2) at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds and the $200,000 Florida Oaks (Grade 3) at 1 1/16 miles on turf for 3-year-old fillies.
Making the Grade
“A lot of factors go into upgrading a stakes, including the quality of the field and what horses go on to achieve against top competition,” Allison De Luca, Tampa Bay Downs racing secretary, told the Tampa Bay Downs media office.
She is a member of the American Graded Stakes Committee.
In addition to being prestigious for racetracks, graded stakes are attractive to trainers, owners and breeders for several reasons.
Performances in graded stakes are the factor in determining whether a horse can get into the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks and are a major factor in determining whether a horse can get into a Breeders’ Cup race.
Wins and other in-the-money finishes are important factors in determining a horse’s post-racing sales prices and/or stud fees.
“The quality of horses for the Hillsborough in recent years has been fantastic, and we are fortunate a lot of top trainers have brought their best horses to run here on the turf,” De Luca said. “I think it’s also a testament to (Vice President of Facilities and Track Surfaces) Tom McLaughlin and his crew for the job they do maintaining the turf course,”
Stephanie’s Kitten won the Hillsborough in March 2015 and Liam’s Map won the Harlan’s Holiday in December 2014. Their subsequent records indicate how “what horses go on to achieve against top competition” can determine if a stakes gets upgraded or gains graded stakes status.
Hillsborough Stakes History
Zagora, a French-bred mare who was owned by Martin S. Schwartz and trained by Chad Brown, used her record-setting Hillsborough effort in 2012 as a stepping stone to a Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf (Grade 1) victory at Santa Anita and an Eclipse Award as Champion Grass Mare.
This year’s Hillsborough winner Stephanie’s Kitten, a 6-year-old mare owned by Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey and trained by Brown, won the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Keeneland.
Prior to the Breeders’ Cup, Stephanie’s Kitten finished second in the Beverly D. (Grade 1) at Arlington Park and won the Flower Bowl (Grade 1) at Belmont Park.
Harlan’s Holiday Stakes
The Harlan’s Holiday was first run in 2012. Trickmeister won the race in 2012 and River Seven won it in 2013.
Last year, Liam’s Map won the Harlan’s Holiday by a half-length over Valid.
Liam’s Map, trained by Todd Pletcher, went on to win three of four starts in 2015. He won the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (Grade 1) at Keeneland and the Woodward (Grade 1) at Saratoga. He also finished second in the Whitney (Grade 1) at Saratoga.
This year, Valid had a win, a second place finish and a third place finish in graded stakes at Monmouth Park.
The race is named for Harlan’s Holiday, the winner of the 2002 Florida Derby (Grade 1) and the 2003 Donn Handicap (Grade 1)–both at Gulfstream.