Kentucky Derby 2013 Post Positions: Slots That Are Historically Advantageous

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2013

Kentucky Derby 2013 Post Positions: Slots That Are Historically Advantageous

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    Let’s get one thing straight: post position matters in the Kentucky Derby.

    It’s not a staggered start like in track and field, so a horse breaking from the far outside has a very short quarter of a mile to angle in to the clubhouse turn. Naturally, only one horse has won from Post 20, and his name is Big Brown.

    Post 1 is no dunk in a hot tub either. The way the gate lines up, if the horse were to run in a total straight line he’d run into the fence.

    Oh, yeah, and there’s 20 horses, 80 hooves kicking, churning and burning for position, which makes certain posts better to be in.

    And the numbers? They don’t lie.

    Note: Post position statistics from KentuckyDerby.com and courtesy of Churchill Downs's media department. Stats factor in when the starting gate was adopted in 1930.

Post 10: Highest by Wins, Highest by Percentage

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    It makes sense that Post 10 is the winningest post position in the history of the Kentucky Derby with nine victories.

    Horses with just about any running style can sit in this post. Speed balls situate in the middle and can shoot to the lead. Closers can fall out and let the other horses burn early gas.

    Here’s another kicker: Post 10 horses enter the gate last.

    With a 20-horse field, they are loaded two at a time. Post 1 and 11 go first, 2 and 12, 3 and 13, and so forth. Ten and 20 enter together at the end, thus not getting flat-footed and anxious.

    Not only does Post 10 boast a 11.8 winning percentage, but 31.6 percent of the 76 starters finished in the money. Most recently, Giacomo won this race from Post 10 at 50-1.

3-Way Tie: Posts 1, 5 and 8

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    Post 8 has seen a revival the past few years. Back in 2006, Barbaro ran a great race and won by six-and-a-half lengths. In 2009, Mine That Bird shocked the world—and race caller Tom Durkin (who completely missed him down the lane)—by squeezing up the rail for a win.

    Like Post 10, eight rests in the middle chunk of the field. Mine That Bird was a deep closer. If you watch carefully in the replay, you’ll see Calvin Borel guide him right to the fence. Barbaro possessed more tactical speed. Even Creative Cause in 2012 finished in the top five. Hard Spun, in 2007, nearly wired the field from Post 8. 

    Post 1 surprises me, but then I looked at the horses who actually won. Most recently was Ferdinand in 1986. Super Mario had just captivated a nation.

    The other winners go back a sobering amount of years: Chateaugay (1963), Needles (1956), Hill Gail (1952), Citation (1948, Triple Crown winner), Gallahadion (1940), Lawrin (1938) and War Admiral (1937, Triple Crown winner).

    Apparently Post 1 was hotter than pantaloons. Of late, not so much.

    Post 5 has three winners in the past 16 years.

Post 2: Boasts the Last Winner of the Triple Crown

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    Not sure if this is an endorsement or a knock, but Post 2—with its seven career wins—harbored Affirmed, the last horse to win the Triple Crown, in 1978. That’s also the last time a horse has won from Post 2.

    If this were the '70s, Post 2 would have been John Travolta and the Bee Gees rolled into one fabulous, unintentionally funny disco ball. Four Derbys were won from Post 2 in the '70s: Affirmed, Bold Forbes (1976), Cannonade (1974) and Dust Commander (1970).

    The average finish for a horse breaking from the two-hole is 7.69, which is second-highest only to Post 10 (7.39).

    It appears that Post 2 is a nice way to pick up a check, just not roses. Horses don’t have to worry about saving ground: just break straight and hope to avoid traffic. Ice Box blitzed from the clouds to finish second in 2010.

Post 13: Nothing Unlucky About This 13

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    Post 13 has just four wins to its credit, a tie for sixth, but it has a very impressive in-the-money percentage—24.2 finish on the tote. You’ve got a 1-in-4 chance of cashing something on a horse breaking from Post 13 and might even snag a winner like Smarty Jones in 2004.

    Smarty Jones had the benefit of having early speed. It was also very muddy that day (another advantage to having early speed. Try running while being sprayed with mud for two minutes.). He and Lion Heart went to the lead and carried the field around. At the top of stretch, clean from being in front, Smarty Jones kicked clear to run his record to 7-0.

    The last horse to finish in the money was Mucho Macho Man (closer) in 2011. The last top-five finish was Went the Day Well (closer) in 2012. Not the best post, but if the horse has talent, don’t let this post dissuade you on Saturday.

Post 16: Enter the Auxiliary Gate

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    Only 188 starters have broken from the auxiliary gate in its relatively short history in the Kentucky Derby. The AG is the extension used to add six more posts to the standard 14-post gate.

    Post 16 affords horses something unique only to this post: spacing. Post 15, has several feet buffering it from the other starting gate. Because of the way the gates connect, there’s an extra few feet to the left. This gives the horse extra room to move should it stray a few feet. Post 15 has the liberty to move, thus freeing up 16.

    Watch any start to a horse race—especially one with the magnitude of horses in Kentucky—and you will see several bolt right, left, up, down. Barely half the field can run in a straight line. Extra elbow room is vital to avoid the pitfalls of traffic issues.

    Four horses have won from Post 16 for a 9.8 percent clip. Most recently Animal Kingdom won in 2011, Monarchos broke Secretariat’s track record from this post in 2001, Charismatic won in 1999 and Thunder Gulch took it in 1995.

    Sure, it’s farther outside, but that extra spacing affords this post a high grade and the most Derby winners over the past 18 years.