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Between two extremes: Implications of Kentucky Derby post positions

| KentuckyDerby.com | 05/03/2013 #
  • Churchill Downs starting gate (Dan Dry)

Among the many factors that can affect a horse's performance in the Kentucky Derby, some say that post position is among the most vital. And yet other horsemen say post position doesn't matter a lick.

The truth – and the best post positions in Saturday's 20-horse field – likely lie somewhere in the middle.

The inside positions, particularly the Nos. 1 and 2, present uncommon challenges for jockeys and horses. As they break from the gate, the inside runners must be steered slightly to their right to avoid the inner rail – all while trying to avoid becoming entangled with a crush of horses to their outside. As the inside runners angle right, the outside runners angle left, 20 horses trying to merge into the most favorable three or four lanes before they sweep into the first turn.

In the past 60 years, only two horses have won the Derby from the one hole, Ferdinand in 1986, and Chateaugay in 1953. The last winner from the No. 2 post was the great Affirmed in 1978.

In the past 60 years, only two horses have won the Derby from the one hole, Ferdinand in 1986, and Chateaugay in 1953. The last winner from the No. 2 post was the great Affirmed in 1978, when he jumped out cleanly, avoided the clutter in the initial run past the grandstand and then held off his foil, Alydar, in a memorable stretch drive.

The inside post was especially difficult for 2010 Derby favorite Lookin at Lucky, who got bounced around immediately, steadied sharply behind horses in the first 100 yards and was essentially eliminated – though he did rally gamely to finish sixth. Bob Baffert, Lookin at Lucky's trainer, said getting that post was a cruel blow.

“I lost all chance at the post-position draw when I drew the one,” Baffert said after the race. “Since then, I haven't been able to really enjoy. Everything had been going so smooth and great, and then boom, right in the one hole.”

A common theme in this year's Derby run-up is that given their druthers, horsemen would have preferred to land somewhere between the two extremes. As Tom Amoss, who trains Mylute, said before Wednesday's post-position draw, “It seems to me that the guys who have been around the block would like to be in the middle, anywhere from 7 out to 13.”

Those runners in Saturday's field include Giant Finish, a 50-1 long shot; Santa Anita Derby winner Goldencents; the Todd Pletcher-trained pair of Overanalyze and Palace Malice; United Arab Emirates Derby champion Lines of Battle; Itsmyluckyday, and another 50-1 outsider, Falling Sky. Among them, the speedy Goldencents could be ideally positioned for a big Derby effort under jockey Kevin Krigger.

Like Affirmed and so many other Derby winners, Goldencents is fast from the blocks, quick enough, if he breaks sharply, to avoid the mosh pit forming behind him.

“He's going to be forwardly placed; we all know that,” Krigger said. “There's no question about Goldencents, where he's going to be in the race. He'll be first, or right off the leader's tail. We're going to see a clean, clear trip .. whoever is in front of us will not finish in front of us. We're confident about that.”

A common theme in this year's Derby run-up is that given their druthers, horsemen would have preferred to land somewhere between the two extremes.

So post position isn't an issue for Goldencents. But it certainly could be for Black Onyx, who drew the one post for trainer Kelly Breen, and Oxbow, who will start right next door for D. Wayne Lukas.

“It might not be an ideal post but I think we have a game plan,” Breen said. “The horse is doing well and horses have won from the one post before. It has happened. It doesn't concern me as much as you would think.”

Lukas, who has saddled four Kentucky Derby winers, was similarly philosophical about the draw for Oxbow.

“I wasn’t too crazy about the two hole for him, but I realize there’s not a lot of speed on the inside. We might be clear. … There’s five or six horses right near us that are not very quick, in my opinion, so we’ll probably get a pretty good run up the rail. It’s the shortest way around there if they’ll leave us alone.”

“We overanalyze this all the time,” Lukas said of the hubbub over the draw. “Everyone gets too involved, and we overanalyze it too much. I’m more interested in where the horses who have running style are placed in relation to where my horses are in the gate. The four I won it with, I can’t remember their post position, so it must not have been too important.’’

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