Kentucky Derby Counterpoints: The Creatures from the Outside Posts!

With the post-position draw for Kentucky Derby 150 just days away, the hand-wringing and hypothesizing about positional advantages and disadvantages will soon grow thicker than Kentucky blue grass in a fertilized field. We at Lazy Bettor Guides would like to provide a metaphorical scythe to chop back all the pretty but obscuring hay.

Sweating an Outside Starting Gate Stall

Leading up to the draw and continuing through to race time, the most well-worn worry bead among owners, trainers, fans and analysts is whether their horse will draw one of the dreaded outside posts. In the minds of most observers, being parked wide in the starting gate hangs like an ominous cloud ready to strike with lightning the unlucky horses who drew those short straws.

In most cases post position ranks as a secondary factor at best. For horses who like to run on or near the lead, it’s seldom a factor at all. The same goes for horses who like to settle near the back of the pack.

Like baby Godzillas crushing houses, cars and bridges with their powerful feet, true Grade 1 thoroughbreds stomp over significant obstacles like pace pressure, bumping, traffic problems, wet tracks and a jockey’s poor judgment. A starting point 8 to 16 feet wider than laggards and lesser earners ranks as one of the smaller obstacles they face. Often the outside post gives them the advantage of avoiding traffic problems and having mud kicked in their faces.

Take a look at this year’s prep-race winners that launched their winning efforts from outside posts:

  • Grade 1 Breeders Futurity (Keeneland): #9 (of 9) Locked, $3.52
  • Grade 3 Street Sense Stakes (Churchill): #8 (of 8) Liberal Arts, $14.18
  • Grade 1 Breeders Cup Juvie (Santa Anita): #9 (of 11) Fierceness, $35.00
  • Springboard Mile (Remington Park): #8 (of 9) Otto the Conqueror, $4.80
  • Gun Runner Stakes (Fair Grounds): #8 (of 8) Track Phantom, $11.80
  • Grade 3 Lecomte (Fair Grounds): #7 (of 8) Track Phantom , $4.80
  • Grade 3 Southwest (Oaklawn): #10 (of 12) Mystik Dan, $24.80
  • Grade 3 Withers (Aqueduct): #8 (of 9) Uncle Heavy, $20.60
  • Battaglia Memorial (Turfway): #12 (of 12) Encino, $13.38
  • Grade 2 San Felipe (Santa Anita): #5 (of 5) Imagination, $3.80
  • Grade 1 Florida Derby (Gulfstream): #10 (of 11) Fierceness, $4.20
  • Grade 1 Blue Grass (Keeneland): #10 (of 11) Sierra Leone, $5.32
  • Grade 1 Lexington (Keeneland): #8 (of 10) Encino, $8.62

Thirteen winners from the 35 US prep races came from one of the three outside posts. That translates to over one-third of winners in these preps coming from the outside third of post positions. In other words, the outer 33% of post positions produced 37% of the winners. No disadvantage there.

NOTE  I originally wrote this piece in 2014, showing similar prep-race results. I updated it in 2019. In that year, in the first 13 two-turn prep races the winner started from one of the two outside posts seven times!

Valuing Performance Over Post Position

We’re not suggesting you blindly bet the three or four widest post positions in the Kentucky Derby gate. Our goal is to convince you to weigh the post-position factor lightly, or not at all.

In 2012 I stood to cash $6,000 on a Futures bet I made immediately after Bodemeister won a maiden race at Santa Anita. Baffert’s horse, unknown at the time, was put on the board that day at 300-1. On Derby day an astute handicapping friend of mine focused on eventual winner I’ll Have Another. Among several advantages he pointed out was that I’ll Have Another had defeated Bodemeister earlier in the spring. He was convinced I’ll Have Another was the better horse, and at odds of 15-1 Doug O’Neill’s underdog was a phenomenal value.

But I’ll Have Another was starting from post 19, where no horse had ever won the Derby from. That post position scared my friend away from betting his top choice. He learned a tough lesson that day about the relative insignificance of wide draws in the Derby, as I’ll Have Another easily blew past Bodemeister in the stretch. Digest the following stats and you won’t  need to suffer such a painfully wrong decision.

Since 2000 11 out of 24 Kentucky Derby winners launched their winning bid from post 15 or wider (approximately the outer one-third of the stalls). Those post positions hosted only about 33% of the contestants but produced 45% of the winners, several at generous prices:

  • 2000 $6.60  #15 Fusaichi Pegasus
  • 2001 $23.00  #16 Monarchos
  • 2004 $10.20 #15 Smarty Jones
  • 2008 $6.80  #20 Big Brown
  • 2011 $43.80  #16 Animal Kingdom
  • 2012 $32.60  #19 I’ll Have Another
  • 2013 $12.80  #16 Orb
  • 2015 $7.80  #15 American Pharoah
  • 2019 $65.20 #20 Country House (via DQ)
  • 2020 $18.80 #18 Authentic
  • 2022 $163.60 #21 Rich Strike

Inside posts, which hold the tactical advantage of saving ground, become a liability in large or competitive fields. Bumping. Crowding. Stress. You can conjecture about factors that produced positive returns from outside posts, but you can’t refute the results. Now, back to the fertilized fields!

Remember to visit LazyBettorUSA.com for other articles in this series. You can also purchase my book The Lazy Bettor’s Guide to the Kentucky Derby, or get a free ebook copy by signing up for a Racetrack Super Scout (RTSS) subscription.