Which Post Positions Equal Kentucky Derby Success?

Post position can have a big impact on the Kentucky Derby. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Keeping a 3-year-old on the Triple Crown trail through the first four months of the year is an experience overwrought with worries. If a horse simply takes one bad step during a morning workout, it can go from the favorite for the Kentucky Derby to a colt looking to begin a second-half surge in the Travers, Saratoga’s Mid-Summer Derby.

Then, even if a Derby hopeful successfully navigates the choppy waters of a marathon prep season, horsemen must sweat out what happens at the post position draw.

A poor post position can surely dampen Derby fever, but which ones can bring out frowns and which ones can make a horseman smile?

To help answer that question, I examined each Derby since 2000, looking at the post positions of the first three finishers, giving a weighted value of 3-2-1 points for first-, second-, and third-place finishes.

The top post in that span was post No. 5 by a clear margin. With four wins, a second, and two thirds, post 5 had 16 points, putting it five points ahead of posts 13 and 15 which had 11 points.

In terms of wins, post 15 had three wins and posts 8, 13, and 16 had two apiece.

After that, post 16 had nine points and post 2 eight.

Finishing sixth was interesting for post 2 because of the well-documented problems facing horses breaking from the rail. Apparently having a post one slot over from the rail was beneficial enough to produce four second-place finishes and two thirds.

Continuing, post 4 had six points and posts 3 and 11 had five points.

That left 11 posts that only had four points or less.

At four points came posts 7, 10 and 18; followed by 12, 19, and 20 at three points; 1, 6, and 9 at two; 14 with one; and post 17 with a goose egg, aka zero.

Given that the sample covers only 18 editions of the Derby, it’s unfair to say post 17 should be tossed out on May 5 at Churchill Downs. Yet there are some generalizations that arise from the statistics, such as how posts 17 through 20 can be problematic. In the 18 editions of the Derby in the sample, with 54 top three finishes among them, the four outside posts have a combined four top three finishes. That breaks down to a win for post 19 and 20 and two seconds for post 18; that’s it.

Meanwhile, posts 2 through 5 had 19 top finishes out of the aforementioned 54 top three placings.

Those numbers surely reflect the value of having a post closer to the inside rail than the outside rail.

Amplifying them, in each of the last six years, at least one horse from posts 1-8 finished in the top three, and during that same period, horses in posts 1-10 had 11 top three finishes and posts 11-20 had just 7.

Taking all of those numbers into account it should become clear that in so many ways a draw can definitely turn out to be a victory for one fortunate horse on the first Saturday in May.

TOP 3 DERBY POSTS 2000-2017






13, 15






3, 4, 11


7, 10, 18


12, 19, 20


1, 6, 9





Points assigned 3 for 1st, 2 for 2nd, 1 for 3rd

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