Two of Del Mar's major stakes races were enhanced to Grade I status for the 2009 racing season by the American Graded Stakes Committee at its annual grading session in Lexington last week.

The Clement L. Hirsch Handicap and the Pat O’Brien Handicap both were elevated from their current Grade II status to the highest ranking for North American stakes races, giving the seaside track nine Grade I races -- the most in its history -- among its 31 advertised stakes. It also features eight Grade II and two Grade III events.

"This is a fine feather in the caps of our racing department, our Southern California horsemen and the high-caliber horses who race on our circuit," said Del Mar Thoroughbred Club president and general manager Joe Harper. "We're delighted that the first-rate show we put on here at Del Mar is drawing the sort of industry plaudits it deserves."

The $300,000 Hirsch, which will have its 39th running next summer, is a mile and one sixteenth for fillies and mares aged 3 and up. The $300,000 O’Brien is at seven furlongs for 3-year-olds and up and will be presented for the 24th time in 2009.

The Hirsch, which this year was won by likely distaff champion Zenyatta, was renamed in 2000 in honor of the late Clement L. Hirsch, one of the founders of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Previously, it had been called the Chula Vista Handicap. Among its earlier winners were distaff champions Azeri (2003, 2002) Riboletta (2000), Paseana (1994), Bayakoa (1990) and Princess Rooney (1984).

The O'Brien, first run in 1986, was named in honor of the Academy Award-winning actor who, along with his Hollywood pal Bing Crosby, founded Del Mar racetrack and oversaw its opening in 1937. Del Mar also offers the six-furlong Bing Crosby Handicap as a Grade I on its stakes agenda and the one-two sprint punch honoring the track founders gives the shore oval a powerful summer lure for those with the nation’s fastest horses.

Del Mar’s 2009 race meet will open on July 22 and run through September 9.