To the naked eye, where a horse starts in a race shouldn't make much difference if they are the best thoroughbred on the track.
At the Kentucky Derby, post position is everything.
Horses with huge pedigrees and high expectations have won and lost their Kentucky Derby titles because of the draw, in large part because comfortability, jockey skill and the weather can completely turn different posts into terrible layouts for different horses at any given time.
This year, Vyjack (No. 20) and Goldencents (No. 8) were among the horses that did not receive a favorable draw, but when it comes right down to it, each trainer, owner, jockey and horse wants one thing—a chance to compete with the rest of the field.
After that, anything can happen—regardless of the post.
However, if you watched the NBC Sports Network broadcast of the Derby draw, you know that post position means everything to each horse. Maybe the most ironic part of that assertion is that the draw is entirely based on luck.
As the Derby has changed, so have the favorable posts.
For example, No. 1 might be tied for the most wins in Derby history, but it has not produced a winner since 1986 and last finished in the top five since 2007. The auxiliary gate (14-20), on the other hand, might not seem favorable because of the proximity to the rail, but in wet conditions, it is a great place to be.
Three of the last five winners have come from the outer gate.
What hasn't changed is post No. 17, where no one has ever won the Derby from that spot. While I'll Have Another broke the No. 19 curse in 2012, there's little doubt no one wants the task of claiming the first-ever win from the last-ever spot to not have such a winner.
As the 19 horses in the Derby (Black Onyx was a late scratch on Friday) get ready to compete in the 2013 Run for the Roses, we'll analyze below which post positions offer the best chance for jockeys and horses to make a strong push toward the finish line each year at Churchill Downs.
2013 Kentucky Derby Layout
|1||SCR (Black Onyx) ||SCR ||SCR|
|2||Oxbow ||Gary Stevens ||D. Wayne Lukas|
|3||Revolutionary||Calvin Borel||Todd Pletcher|
|4||Golden Soul||Robby Albarado||Dallas Stewart|
|5||Normandy Invasion ||Javier Castellano ||Chad Brown|
|6||Mylute ||Rosie Napravnik ||Tom Amoss|
|7||Giant Finish||Jose L. Espinoza||Anthony W. Dutrow|
|8||Goldencents||Kevin Krigger||Doug O'Neill|
|9||Overanalyze||Rafael Bejarano||Todd Pletcher|
|10||Palace Malice||Mike Smith||Todd Pletcher|
|11||Lines of Battle||Ryan Moore||Aidan O'Brien|
|12||Itsmyluckyday||Elvis Trujillo||Eddie Plesa Jr.|
|13||Falling Sky||Luis Saez||John Terranova II|
|14||Verrazano ||John R. Velazquez ||Todd Pletcher|
|15||Charming Kitten ||Edgar Prado ||Todd Pletcher|
|16||Orb||Joel Rosario ||Claude R. McGaughey III|
|17||Will Take Charge||Jon Court ||D. Wayne Lukas|
|18||Frac Daddy||Victor Lebron||Kenny McPeek|
|19||Java's War||Julien Leparoux||Kenny McPeek|
|20||Vyjack||Garrett Gomez ||Rudy Rodriguez|
*Post positions via the Kentucky Derby's official Twitter account.
Most Favorable Post Positions
*Stats since starting gate was first used in 1930.
Post No. 5
ITM (in the money): 21.7%
Average Finish: 7.58
Winners Produced: 12 (tied for most all-time)
Last Winner: Funny Cide (2003)
This Year: Normandy Invasion, ridden by Javier Castellano
The No. 5 spot is a great place to be on the track, as 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet would probably tell you if he could still talk.
In addition to producing the most winners of any starting gate (tied with No. 1), the No. 5 spot affords jockeys a chance to avoid the fray on both the outside and inside and focus strictly on a fast start and getting to the rail.
It's just far enough away from the inside to avoid the sloppy mess, and just far enough away from the outside to keep things interesting.
This is a post built for a speed horse.
Normandy Invasion will be manning this post on Saturday afternoon, and there are many who feel he has a good chance to become winner No. 13 from this spot by the time the race ends.
As one of the lowest average finishers of any of the 20 post positions, the No. 5 gate has stood the test of time as an attractive place to be, even if slower horses are pinned down a little bit because of fast starters on the outside.
The one downside would appear to be getting caught up in the fray, as some of the horses from the Kentucky Oaks did in the middle of the gate on Friday afternoon. However, this spot is a proven winner, gets the job done in the money and has the stats to prove that getting drawn here isn't bad at all.
Post No. 10
Average Finish: 7.39
Winners Produced: 10
Last Winner: Giacomo (2005)
This Year: Palace Malice, ridden by Mike Smith
If you're looking for the midpoint of the gates, then getting No. 10 in the draw might be the spot for you.
It's certainly had its fair share of proven winners over the years, compiling 10 overall and noted champions Sunday Silence, Genuine Risk, Lil E. Tee, while also giving us two Triple Crown winners—Secretariat in 1973 and Omaha in 1935.
Palace Malice draws the assignment here, and gets the favorable ability to really survey the track before making a move. As with No. 5, staying out of the fray will be a huge concern for this gate, but the remarkable 31-percent rate of in the money finishers gives you nearly 3-1 odds that a horse in this spot can overcome a slow start if need be.
Palace Malice is a Todd Pletcher horse, and has to like its chances when you add up a strong performance at the Blue Grass Stakes (second) and jockey Mike Smith coming off a win riding Princess of Sylmar in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks.
Pletcher feels good already with five horses in this event, but a categorical look at Derby finishers will help him calm nerves before the race when it comes to his mid-tier sleeper.
Post No. 16
Average Finish: 9.39
Winners Produced: 4
Last Winner: Animal Kingdom (2011)
This Year: Orb, ridden by Joel Rosario
Favorite Orb drew the auxiliary gate this year and the No. 16 spot. As trainer Shug McGaughey will tell you, this isn't a bad spot to be at when the gate opens on Saturday—just look at past history.
Since the Derby started using the side gate in 1981, four winners have come from the No. 16 spot.
The most recent winner is Animal Kingdom, ridden by John Velazquez in 2011. With a little bit of extra space from the two gates and little pressure from the outside horses to avoid an epic collapse, the No. 16 spot is a huge coup for a horse that can be a late charger on the outside.
It's a theory that rang true for Animal Kingdom in 2011, and could do the same for Orb this year.
When you look at the current layout of the spot over the years, nothing really jumps out about the percentages. This is a spot for a late-charging horse with a high pedigree, and Orb is just that in 2013.
It should produce yet another contender this year, and trainers can breathe easy with an outside gate start—especially when it rains.
Post No. 13
Average Finish: 8.17
Winners Produced: 4
Last Winner: Smarty Jones (2004)
This Year: Falling Sky, ridden by Luis Saez
No. 13 might not be lucky to some, but it's been a nice place to be in the money among Derby competitors. Over the years, it has sent 24.2 percent of its horses to the money, and Mucho Macho Man in 2011 and another near-miss in 2012 when Went the Day Well finished fourth.
Falling Sky, a horse many feel will set the pace, is the horse in charge of carrying this spot in 2013.
The win percentage is very low on this gate, largely because it was the outermost gate for quite some time before the field expanded to 20 horses. That proves troublesome (just ask Vyjack's people) because of the crowd noise and lack of a barrier between the horse and anything on the right side of its flank.
There you have it—four posts that have been fruitful to riders and horses over the years.
We can harp on jockeys, horse pedigrees, trainers, owners and the Derby itself until we are blue in the face, but once the horses break the starting gate, things can change in an instant.
These four spots provide some key advantages to those with the right skill set, but you can pretty much throw everything out of the water when these horses come down the stretch.
It's why the Derby is the two most exciting minutes in sports.
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