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Kentucky Derby - Does Where You Start Affect Where You Finish?

Added on: March 25, 2013

The draw for post positions at the Kentucky Derby takes place on the Wednesday before the race takes place, and to say that this is eagerly anticipated would be an understatement. There is room for twenty horses in the Derby field, and so it gets congested. Something on the extreme outside might make it tough to get to the first turn in any kind of good condition, and something right in the middle can cause its own problems as well, because horses stand the risk of really being hemmed in.

Another thing that usually spells trouble for Kentucky Derby starters is when they draw the #1 position at the gate. At Churchill Downs this difficulty makes a lot of sense, especially in light of recent years when the Derby field winds up being very crowded. It used to be that #1 was an advantage, and that is evident in the fact that since 2005, #1 is tied with the #5 post for the most wins with twelve apiece.

However, when the field gets packed, and it usually does, they have to bring the auxiliary starting gate out to accommodate up to 20 horses, and that pushes the #1 position to a point where it is actually to the left of the rail. So instead of being able to hug the rail at the start and save ground into the first turn, the jockey must maneuver the #1 horse to his right and possibly into another horse in order to avoid being obstructed by the rail as he moves forward. The last Derby winner who broke from the #1 spot was Ferdinand, and that was in 1986.

The positions from one (1) through five (5) have won the Derby a total of 51 times since 1900. The 11-20 positions have won 22 times. Last year was the first occasion in which a horse from the #19 post won (I'll Have Another). It is thought that if a horse can run well early, he can get to the first turn relatively quickly; at least quickly enough that he is not caught up in a lot of confusion when that happens. Certainly the post position is going to have an effect on a Kentucky Derby contender, one way or another.