Post position matters regardless of the race, but in the Kentucky Derby, it’s magnified in a huge way. With 20 horses loaded into one gate, post position analysis is an important part of handicapping the race and dramatically affects which horse(s) you play. We’re here to help! Let’s start with the trends that you need to know.
Below is a table showing performance from each post position (1-20) since the use of a starting gate in 1930, including total starts, total first, second, and third-place finishes, win %, and “In The Money” % (ITM) (first, second, or third) from each post:
Even though the #1 post position shows a 9.1 win %, any horse that draws the 1 post is a complete toss-out. Yes, Lookin at Lee finished second last year after leaving from the 1 post, but he also had a perfect rail trip, dropping back in the pack after Thunder Snow bucked like a bronco from the gate. The rail is the worst place to start because the Churchill chute basically lines up directly with the horse running into the rail. With 19 horses all pushing from the outside in, the horse in the 1 position is in danger of getting hit into the rail to start the race. No horse has won the Derby from the 1 slot since Ferdinand in 1986. Additionally, a horse hasn’t won from the 2 post since Triple Crown winner Affirmed in 1978. The 3-post position hasn’t won since 1998 with Real Quiet, so being on the inside is not a good place to be, even though the percentages in the table are skewed due to smaller fields in the past.
The most favorable post positions are generally believed to be 5 through 16. Post positions 14 and 15 have the advantage of being at end of the main 14 horse gate and the start of the 6-stall auxiliary gate, giving these two horses a little bit extra room to break. This also helps the horses in the 13 and 16 post positions to break more cleanly. Posts 13 through 16 have performed well, including wins in three of the last five years: Orb (15) in 2013, American Pharoah (15) in 2015, and Nyquist (13) in 2016. The 5 post is winning at an 11.4% rate, including California Chrome in 2014 and Always Dreaming last year.
For a more in-depth look at the race, including pace projections, check out the Kentucky Oaks/Derby Wagering Guide, put together by our very own Mike “Saratoga Slim” Spector. Follow him on Twitter @SaratogaSlim.