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Any time a turf player opens up the Daily Racing Form to handicap a Thoroughbred horserace, they are bombarded with well, an infinite amount of pertinent tidbits. From Beyer Speed Figures to pedigrees, the list goes on and on, yet that portion of data known as post position(s), (or which numeric gate said racers will break from) more often than not also factors into the decision making process. There are many things to consider when playing the ponies.

Now, it is my experience that Thoroughbred handicappers put either too much or too little emphasis on that material matter known as “post position.” In truth, however, every punter keenly hones in on the starting gates lateral layout when it comes to the years most prestigious horse race.

See, 20 Thoroughbreds routinely contest the Kentucky Derby and at the random post position draw (which takes place the preceding Wednesday), there’s a reason why owners and trainers say a prayer that their entrant doesn’t get stuck down on the inside (in post positions #1, #2 or #3) or hung out wide (in post positions #18, #19 or #20). It all boils down to getting a good trip around the oval, and simple geometry states that the Derby Racer wearing saddle cloth #20 will automatically lose a ton of ground.

Conversely, the Derby Racer wearing saddle cloth #1 should (in theory) be able to save the most ground right? You’d think so. Unfortunately, they tend to get squashed up against the inside rail by a host of competitors who are eagerly angling inside in order to save ground themselves.

Before moving forward it is probably a good idea to expound on the terms saving ground and losing ground. Remember the old axiom?The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Likewise, the shortest distance around any racetrack is atop that path which brushes the inner rail. Hence, a horse who skims the wood most of the way is said to have had a ground-saving. On the contrary, a horse legging it well off the fence compromises his chances by virtue of losing ground.

Understandably, someone new to the realm of Thoroughbred horseracing might innocently inquire, “How vital is it for a racer to save ground?” Friends, here is a simple yet startling equation. With regards to rounding turns, horses lose one length at the wire for every path they put between themselves and the rail. For instance, in a one turn race, if the horses breaking from post #1 and post #7 run at the exact same speed and maintain their course for the contests duration, the horse who broke from post #1 will ultimately win by six lengths!

Incidentally, if you’re partial to playing the races at Belmont Park (and really, who isn’t?), store this one particular fact in your memory bank. Whereas every other major American racetrack is one mile in circumference, Belmont Park is one and one half miles in circumference. At days end, this unconventional dimension absolutely compromises the chances of those horses breaking from outside post positions in both five furlong (5/8ths of a mile) and 10 furlong (1¼ mile) races. See, in a five-furlong race, the run to the turn is so short that those who draw outside invariably get hung wide. Moreover, 10-furlong races at Belmont Park actually start on the first turn! This irregular setup puts those drawn outside at a disadvantage from the get-go.

Now some may disagree, but I am of the opinion that post-position matters very little when betting a stone-cold closer. My reasoning is that no matter where they’re drawn, horses with the aforementioned running-style invariably take back, gravitate towards the rail in order to save ground, and then eventually make their run. When referencing racers who like to be on or near the lead however, it’s a whole different story.

Let’s say a stereotypical speedster draws post #12 in a 12-horse field. Spitfires facing this scenario (especially if there is some other speed in the race) must hustle away from the gate like mad and then proceed to cut across the entire field. Otherwise, they will get hung wide and therefore lose precious ground. Remember that typically, this sort of early rush devitalizes a racers late kick, so invest those greenbacks accordingly!

 

Author bio: Eric Floyd is a turf writer for various gaming publications as well as a Triple Crown pari-mutuel consultant for several national media outlets. Excerpts from his gambling memoir, My First Decade Playing the Game, can be found at LuLu.com