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.)

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