Post Positions That Produced The Most & Fewest Kentucky Derby Winners

April 23rd, 2024

Changes in technology over the years have also influenced which Kentucky Derby post positions are the most advantageous for winning. Other impactful factors for successful results include track condition, running styles, and overall size of the field; each of which can affect the quality of the break and the outcome of the race. 

The starting gate in a horse race consists of a series of small conjoined enclosures called “post position.” The full enclosure spreads across the width of a racetrack, from which each horse entered will begin their race. The position a horse emerges from can affect all aspects of the race, especially in the Kentucky Derby, which allows for more entrants (20) than any other race in North America. 

Read on to learn about the strategies involved in handicapping, as well as the best post positions for Kentucky Derby victory and which to avoid.

What Is The Significance Of Post Positions In The Kentucky Derby?

While most races in North America allow a maximum of fourteen horses, the Kentucky Derby allows for up to twenty runners. A more crowded field means that interference between entrants is more likely, particularly at the outset of the race, when jockeys are fighting for positions along the rail so as to save ground. 

Horses that prefer running on the lead early must be pushed quickly to attain their favored position, while those who prefer to stalk or close must find a way to avoid getting themselves trapped in the first stages so that they have space to make their run later on.

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Which Post Position Has The Most Kentucky Derby Wins?

What post position wins the Kentucky Derby the most? Since the introduction of the automatic starting gate in 1930, the record for most Kentucky Derby wins by post position belongs to post position 5

Ten winners have been sent from this post: Twenty Grand (1931), Bold Venture (1936), Johnstown (1939), Count Fleet (1943), Strike the Gold (1991), Silver Charm (1997), War Emblem (2002), Funny Cide (2003), California Chrome (2014), and Always Dreaming (2017).

Which Post Position Has The Fewest Kentucky Derby Wins?

It is also important to consider which post positions are not the best post positions for Kentucky Derby entrants. The only post position that has been in regular use since 1930 that has produced zero winners is post position 17 (post 21 has been used in two Derbies, 1974 and 1985, and posts 22 and 23 were used in 1974 only). 

Forty-four horses have started from this post position, resulting in only three in-the-money finishes. Forty Niner, in 1988, came the closest to victory, finishing second to Winning Colors by a neck. 

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The old starting gate, with an auxiliary extension for including a field of 20 horses. 

Kentucky Derby start (Photo by Coady Media/Churchill Downs)

Kentucky Derby start (Photo by Coady Media/Churchill Downs)

Kentucky Derby Winners By Post Position 

When sorting Kentucky Derby winners by post position, it is key to include data only from 1930 onward, when modern starting gates were used. Prior to 1930, horses were released by lining up behind a barrier made from mesh or wire, or by lining up at a line drawn in the dirt track. This resulted in many false starts, safety concerns, and starting tactics that were no longer necessary with the introduction of the new technology.

  1. Post Position No. 1
    • 8 wins, 5 seconds, 5 thirds from 94 starts, last winner in 1986
      • Horses breaking from this post position were quite common in the early runnings of the Kentucky Derby, but the modern configuration of the starting gate and the track itself now means that horses breaking from the extreme inside have to cut sharply to the right to avoid running into the rail. This often leads to horses in this position being pushed back at the start and encountering traffic trouble.
  2. Post Position No. 2
    • 7 wins, 5 seconds, 13 thirds from 94 starts, last winner in 1978
      • This post has the highest number of third-place finishes of any Kentucky Derby post position. 
      • However, no horse from this post has finished in the money in more than a decade, with Revolutionary’s deep-closing third in 2013 being the last time a horse starting from post 2 has cracked the top three.
  3. Post Position No. 3
    • 5 wins, 8 seconds, 8 thirds from 94 starts, last winner in 1998
      • Although no Triple Crown winners have emerged from this post, four out of the five winners to break from post 3 won a second leg of the Triple Crown. Spectacular Bid (1979), Alysheba (1987), and Real Quiet (1998) all won the Preakness S. (G1)  in addition to the Derby, while Shut Out (1942) flopped in the Preakness but added the Belmont S. (G1) to his resume.
  4. Post Position No. 4
    • 5 wins, 6 seconds, 4 thirds from 94 starts, last winner in 2010
      • This is the first of three post positions to claim multiple Triple Crown winners; the others are posts 7 and 10. Whirlaway (1941) was the first to triumph from this post, and Seattle Slew joined him 36 years later.
  5. Post Position No. 5
    • 10 wins, 8 seconds, 4 thirds from 94 starts, last winner in 2017
      • This is the post that answers the first key question: what post position wins the Kentucky Derby the most? A whopping ten winners have emerged from this post. Interestingly, prior to Strike the Gold’s 1991 Kentucky Derby victory, there had been a gap of nearly fifty years since the last time this post proved victorious.
  6. Post Position No. 6
    • 2 wins, 8 seconds, 3 thirds from 94 starts, last winner in 1993
      • Post six is a bit of a statistical anomaly among Kentucky Derby post positions, having produced only two winners in spite of being sandwiched between posts that have produced four times as many victors. This results in a winning percentage of only 2.1%: the lowest winning percentage of any Kentucky Derby post position save for those that have yet to produce a winner (17, and the obsolete 21-23 posts).
  7. Post Position No. 7
    • 8 wins, 6 seconds, 6 thirds from 93 starts, last winner in 2021
      • Mandaloun is the last winner to break from post position 7; however, he was not the first horse across the finish line. Medina Spirit, who was disqualified for a drug positive, was the first horse across the finish line; he broke from post 8.
  8. Post Position No. 8
    • 9 wins, 5 seconds, 5 thirds from 93 starts, last winner in 2023
      • Tied with the second highest number of Kentucky Derby wins, post position 8 has the honor of producing the most recent winner of the Run for the Roses. Last year, Mage won the Kentucky Derby from post 8 with odds of approximately 8-1.
  9. Post Position No. 9
    • 4 wins, 6 seconds, 8 thirds from 90 starts, last winner in 1972
      • All four victories from post position 9 came in the span of only 21 years. Count Turf (1951) was the first, followed by Tomy Lee (1959), Venetian Way (1960), and Riva Ridge (1972).
  10. Post Position No. 10
    • 9 wins, 6 seconds, 10 thirds from 87 starts, last winner in 2005
      • While analyzing Kentucky Derby winners by post position is the simplest way to gather data, it is also important to look at the second- and third-place finishes when considering your wagers. Post position 10 has the highest overall in-the-money percentage. 
      • Nearly 29% of horses starting from this gate have finished in the top three spots, the most recent being Zandon (2022), who was a good closing third.
  11. Post Position No. 11
    • 2 wins, 6 seconds, 4 thirds from 83 starts, last winner in 1988
      • The first horse to win the Kentucky Derby from this post position was Brokers Tip (1933), who was one of the most controversial Derby winners of all time. 
      • Brokers Tip and Head Play were engaged in a furious stretch battle all the way through the finish line, but it was the fisticuffs their jockeys (Don Meade and Herb Fischer, respectively) engaged in that earned the nickname “the Fighting Finish.” Photo finish technology was in its infancy, and a judge ruled Brokers Tip to be the winner- the only career win he ever achieved.
  12. Post Position No. 12
    • 3 wins, 3 seconds, 4 thirds from 79 starts, last winner in 1971
      • The first Kentucky Derby winner from post 12 was Hoop Jr. (1945). He won the first of only two editions of the Kentucky Derby to be held in a month other than May. The effects of World War II had led to racing being suspended in the first half of 1945. When D-Day occurred and the war ended, Churchill Downs elected to hold the Kentucky Derby in mid-June.
  13. Post Position No. 13
    • 5 wins, 5 seconds, 7 thirds from 77 starts, last winner in 2016
      • One of the winners from this seemingly “unlucky” post was the first horse to be elevated to victory following the disqualification of another horse. Dancer’s Image crossed the line first in 1968, but was disqualified following a positive drug test; Forward Pass was subsequently declared the winner. Dancer’s Image broke from post position 12.
  14. Post Position No. 14
    • 2 wins, 6 seconds, 6 thirds from 67 starts, last winner in 1961
      • It has been 62 years since the last Kentucky Derby winner came from post 14, a longer gap between wins than any other post position has seen. That winner was Carry Back, a popular deep closer who became the only horse to ever compete in both the Kentucky Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France.
  15. Post Position No. 15
    • 6 wins, 2 seconds, 1 thirds from 62 starts, last winner in 2020
      • Authentic (2020), the most recent winner from post 15, was the first Kentucky Derby winner to break from the unique 20-horse specialized Kentucky Derby starting gate. Prior to 2020, the first fourteen horses were loaded into the regular starting gate, with any other entrants starting from an auxiliary gate. The gap between the two gates often led to interference just after the start of the race as horses jostled for position.
  16. Post Position No. 16
    • 4 wins, 3 seconds, 3 thirds from 51 starts, last winner in 2011
      • As with post 9, all of the winners from post 16 occurred within a relatively short period of time. The first Kentucky Derby winner to break from this post position was Thunder Gulch (1995); he was followed by Charismatic (1999), Monarchos (2001), and Animal Kingdom (2011).
  17. Post Position No. 17
    • 0 wins, 1 seconds, 2 thirds from 44 starts, no winners
      • As previously mentioned, this is the only post position in regular use that has yet to produce a winner. Forty Niner placed second in 1988; however, the last horse from this post to even finish in the top five was Don’t Get Mad, who finished fourth in 2005. 
  18. Post Position No. 18
    • 2 wins, 4 seconds, 0 thirds from 36 starts, last winner in 2019
      • The most recent Kentucky Derby winner from post position 18 was Country House (2019). Like Forward Pass and Mandaloun, Country House was awarded the Kentucky Derby win when the first finisher, Maximum Security, was disqualified (in this case for interference). Maximum Security broke from post position 7.
  19. Post Position No. 19
    • 1 wins, 1 seconds, 0 thirds from 30 starts, last winner in 2012
      • The only horse ever to win from post position 19 was I’ll Have Another (2012). I’ll Have Another won the Preakness two weeks later and seemed headed to Triple Crown glory; however, an injury necessitated his withdrawal from the Belmont and he was later retired.
  20. Post Position No. 20
    • 2 wins, 0 seconds, 1 thirds from 18 starts, last winner in 2022
      • Although post 20 has only produced two winners, the post has only been utilized in 18 runnings, leading to the highest win percentage among Kentucky Derby post positions: a respectable 11.1%. 
  21. Post position 21 was in use in 1985 and 1974, and 22 and 23 were in use only in 1974. None produced any winners or placings.

The new starting gate, custom built for 20 horses and thus retiring the auxiliary appendage gate. 

Kentucky Derby starting gate (Photo by Coady Media/Churchill Downs)

Kentucky Derby starting gate (Photo by Coady Media/Churchill Downs)

What factors contribute to the success of horses starting from specific post positions in the Kentucky Derby?

A horse’s running style is a major factor that contributes to how much the post position influences their chances. 

For instance, horses who have natural early speed may be able to push clear from an inside post without encountering much traffic, but would be caught wide and beaten to the lead if they started from the outside. 

Conversely, a horse who runs late in the race might become boxed in or shuffled around by horses gunning for the lead in the first few furlongs, if they are starting from the inside, but an outside post position may allow them time to settle and find a favorable spot.

Track conditions can also affect which post positions are favorable. A wet track may drain toward the inside rail, meaning that the mud toward the inside of the track may be thicker and more difficult to run through. 

RELATED: How to think about the post position factor in Kentucky Derby handicapping

Can post position influence race strategy and tactics in the Kentucky Derby?

When analyzing the Kentucky Derby, best post positions tend to minimize the amount of strategy and tactics jockeys need to employ. A good post position is not as much of a boon as a bad post position is a hindrance. 

Jockeys breaking from either the extreme inside or the extreme outside must be fully aware of what they need to do to get their horse in the most advantageous position, and they must also know what the horses immediately surrounding them are likely to do. 

A jockey skilled at breaking in races with large fields is absolutely key when determining the likely outcomes for horses starting from disadvantageous post positions.

What strategies can horses starting from less favorable post positions employ to improve their chances of winning the Kentucky Derby?

Horses starting from the extreme inside would be well served to either break cleanly and immediately hustle to the lead, or demonstrate the ability to let other horses bunch in front of them while avoiding dense excess traffic. 

Horses starting from the extreme outside tend to do well if they rate behind other horses, allowing early speed to fall back and closing their distance at later points in the race.

A start from either the extreme inside post positions or the extreme outside post positions is far more likely to be successful if the horse involved is piloted by an experienced jockey; particularly one who is a veteran of several Kentucky Derbies.

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The finish of the 2019 Kentucky Derby (G1) (Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)