Which post position is REALLY the best place to be?

How often in the USA do 20 horses load into the starting gate? The answer is once, and its the Kentucky Derby. Most stats on which starting position is the best are hard to gauge because, in the early says especially, many runnings had six or less runners. So obviously the inside positions are going to have a lot more winners because they’ve been occupied more! I wanted to figure out with the field never getting less than 15 nowadays, which ones for the modern race are really the best. Not to mention, especially in the Derby while winning is best, finishing second or third when considering the best starting position is also equally important and almost always ignored.

So I got my handy dandy media guide and noted every Derby that had 15 or more horses (since 15 would mean the auxiliary gate) and which starting position did the best. Now some years, such as 2004, Smarty Jones carried #15 but since there were two scratches, he was post position 13 (the inside 2 were left open) so sometimes the saddle cloth and post don’t actually match. Here’s how positions 1-20 have done the 61 times there have been 15 or more horses.

  1. 5 winners, 2 seconds, 5 thirds
  2. 5-2-5
  3. 4-4-5
  4. 4-4-3
  5. 4-5-3
  6. 2-2-0
  7. 5-2-1
  8. 4-4-5
  9. 3-2-4
  10. 6-4-8
  11. 1-4-1
  12. 3-3-4
  13. 2-7-5
  14. 1-4-5
  15. 4-2-1
  16. 4-3-3
  17. 0-1-2
  18. 1-4-0
  19. 1-2-0
  20. 2-0-1

The best posts with the most wins are 10 with six wins, then 1, 2 and 7 with eight wins each.

The bests posts for being in the money are 10, then 13, then a tie with 8 and 3.

Points to Ponder:

  • While 10 is the best for winning and being in the money, 11 has had a pretty poor record even though it is only one away from the best.
  • The dead rail is the worst place to be due to the positioning of the starting gate on the turn, however many times when there isn’t a packed field of 20 (which has happened a total of 18 times in the history of the race)
  • There were 20 horses in the 1937 race, War Admiral was able to overcome the one hole and win.
    • With 17 horses in 1946, Assault won from post 2
  • Posts 1-7 have a combined record of 29-21-21 winning 48% of the time
    • For how much connections have moaned and groaned over getting an inside spot, looks like its better than getting the middle or outside
  • Posts 8-13 have a combined record of 19-24-27 winning 31% of the time
  • Posts 14-20 have a combined record of 13-16-12 winning 21% of the time
  • No horse in post 17 has never won
  • No horse in post 20 has ever come in second
  • No horse in post 6 has come in third with 15+, and 18 or 19 have never come in third.
  • The starting gate was first used in 1930, nine runnings prior had more than 15 horses (1915, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1925, 1927, 1928 and 1929.)

Story Time: The 1967 Derby, where MLK said “ummmm best not”

This country was a very different place in 1967. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, the Apollo Program was just beginning, the Vietnam War was still raging. In sports the first Super Bowl was played that year, the Red Sox lost yet another World Series, Muhammad Ali was stripped of his World Heavyweight titles and was banned from boxing for his refusal to join the Army and the last Triple Crown winner was Citation 19 years before in 1948. Back then, for one day a year, even with all that going on the eyes of the country fell as it always did on Louisville, Kentucky for the 93rd running of the Kentucky Derby. However, this year the horses had to step back as the focus shifted from the race itself, to potential race riots.

Louisville transitioned pretty easily into desegregation. While many consider Kentucky southern, there is no doubt that Louisville is nothing like the rest of the state and has the culture of a midwestern city. A pressing issue though was for the city to make it illegal to refuse to sell or rent homes based on race. This was the first time race had really been a major problem in Louisville as black ministers had formed the Committee on Open Housing (COH) and marched the streets to get the attention of Mayor Kenneth Schmied. In one of their marches, the police reacted violently by stomping on protesters and dragging them down the street. The mayor claimed that “outsiders”, people coming from out of town to participate in the marches were to blame for the violent nature. Thats when Dr. Martin Luther King Junior caught wind of the events.

While he condemned what had happened in the marches, Dr. King was happy to praise Louisville’s “reputation for pioneering in social progress” in a telegram to the Mayor. To get some national attention, Dr. King brought the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC)’s board meeting to Louisville that year with another march on March 30 over equal opportunity housing and marches continued through April. On that same day he spoked at the University of Louisville’s school of law telling the overflow crowd of students that many blacks “see life as a long and desolate corridor with no exit signs. This is what the demonstrations are about in Louisville.”

Louisville’s most famous son, Muhammad Ali, was very vocal about his support of the marches. One SCLC organizer suggested protesting, and even preventing the Kentucky Derby from even being run as it was less than a month away. One of the traditions the city has is the annual Pegasus Parade every year days before the big race. Except this year it was canceled for the first and only time.

As the race drew closer, the marches got more intense. People were being arrested from the parking lot at Churchill Downs as protesters were blocking horses from getting to the track and preventing some from even racing. During one race the Monday before the Derby, a protester ran onto the track as the horses turned for home and stopped the race as the jockeys dodged him. The Mayor asked for the National Guard to be in attendance for protection, and the Ku Klux Klan said they would help maintain order and would be fully dressed in the infield. Rumors floated around that many African Americans would show up and stand by the start of the race with dog whistles to disrupt the start.

The day before the race, Dr. King made a speech declaring that the race will be left alone–he will not condone any protests made at Churchill Downs that day, and instead encouraged marches downtown instead. He knew that if a protest were to be carried out in the infield, with thousands of armed guards, police, and Klansmen in the small Churchill infield, that it could turn into a full blown riot and and badly.

Thanks to the speech, Derby day was tense, but went off without a hitch. It was a gloomy humid day but 30-1 Proud Clarion and Bob Ussery went on to win the race for Darby Dan Farm.

The unrest in Louisville continued well into the next year. To appeal to the African Americans, the Domocrats running for the board promised that if they received their votes they will work to create fair housing. They made good of their promise and created what would become the Kentucky Fair Housing Act.