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In Wednesday’s issue of Thoroughbred Daily News, European correspondent and statistical omnivore Bill Oppenheim wrote that European buyers aren’t as interested in purchasing American-raced stakes fillies and mares for breeding because “Europeans can’t make head nor tail of American catalogues, and therefore lack the confidence to buy.”

The reason, Br’er Oppenheim contends, is that 61 percent of American black type (1,148 of 1,890 stakes in 2008) comes in the form of non-listed or -graded black-type stakes. Well, maybe that is confusing. There certainly are plenty of restricted stakes in most American racing jurisdictions (except Kentucky), and that consideration caused me to ring the offices of the Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders Association (TOBA) and speak to Andy Schweigardt, who is also secretary for the graded stakes committee that determines black-type grading for stakes in the US.

From the sums Oppenheim presented, there were 742 stakes eligible for grading in the US in 2008, and Schweigardt noted that those eligible races which don’t make the grade are marked “listed” for cataloging purposes.

I checked my trusty Keeneland January catalogs, and there indeed were not only the graded, as appropriate, but also races marked with L for listed, R for restricted, and O for non-restricted and non-listed stakes. There are also some now-defunct designations like LR (listed but restricted) and Q for non-stakes races that conferred black type for a season or two about 20 years ago.

After looking through the entire sale, I honestly don’t see that much to confuse an interested buyer. The designations are a bit of an alphabet soup but nothing past understanding, and I believe the fellows from overseas are plenty sharp enough to spoon through the broth and find the meat in the Keeneland burgoo.

That said, having only the stakes that are listed and better appear as black type would have a refreshing simplicity. The fly in the soup is that the Cataloging Standards crowd, regional racing programs, racetracks, and various political agencies would doubtless get in a dust-up if that were attempted. So…..


As part of my discussion with Schweigardt, he noted that in assessing percentages of total races to graded stakes, he compared the big five major EU countries to the five major US racing jurisdictions (KY, FL, NY CA, and IL). He said, “For graded comparison, it didn’t seem fair to throw in our percentages of graded stakes against all races because we have so many races nationally. I thought they skewed the statistics” by showing US graded stakes as a tiny percentage of total races, which suggests that there should be hundreds or even thousands more black type and graded races.

By using the principal racing jurisdictions in Europe compared to the five primary racing states in the US, Schweigardt said we are “surprisingly close in number of total races, graded stakes, and G1 races, based on numbers from 2008 back through 2001.”