By J. Keeler Johnson
Post positions for the 2020 Kentucky Derby were drawn on Tuesday morning, triggering the annual debate among bettors as to which horses drew well, which drew poorly, and which might enjoy ideal trips in the “Run for the Roses.”
Some assumptions will be anecdotal, based on gut feelings and the relative draws of key contenders. Other conclusions will be based on cold, hard data—specifically, the post position statistics meticulously compiled by Churchill Downs since the starting gate was first introduced for the 1930 Kentucky Derby.
How many winners have broken from post 1? What’s the win percentage of post 16? What percent of horses finish in the money (first, second, or third) when breaking from post 8? Who was the last horse to win from post 2? How about the last horse to finish in the money from post 18?
If you find yourself asking any of these questions, we’ve got you covered with a convenient chart breaking down all the data:
A few key takeaways from the chart are as follows:
• Post 1 is often dreaded since it’s difficult for horses to secure racing room while breaking from the inside of a large field. But while post 1 hasn’t produced a Derby winner since Ferdinand in 1986, post 2, post 9, post 12, post 14, and post 17 have endured even worse luck. Post 14 hasn’t produced a Derby winner since Carry Back in 1961, and horses breaking from post 17 have gone 0-for-41.
• Not every Kentucky Derby features a full field, so inside posts are more likely to compile high win percentages than outside posts. In a 10-horse field, each post has a 10% chance at producing the winner. In a 20-horse field, each post has a 5% chance.
• Keeping the above in mind, it’s noteworthy how many Derby winners have broken from outside posts in recent years. Six of the last nine winners (67%) started from post 13 or wider, suggesting unencumbered trips are more important than saving ground in the Kentucky Derby.
• But based on a strict reading of the statistics, post 5 is the best position a horse can hope to draw. Not only has post 5 produced the most winners, the most runners-up, and the highest win percentage, it’s also produced a top-five finisher in every Kentucky Derby since 2012. This impressive streak includes the victorious duo of California Chrome (2014) and Always Dreaming (2017).
Will Tiz the Law become the first Kentucky Derby winner to break from post 17? Can Major Fed keep the streak of success for post 5 alive? Will Finnick the Fierce, Max Player, Sole Volante, or Winning Impression reverse the long losing streaks for their respective post positions?
We’ll find out on the first Saturday in September.
Photo: Derby contender King Guillermo out on the track. Credit: Churchill Downs/Coglianese Photos