The Kentucky Derby's luckiest (and unluckiest) draws

April 20th, 2021

What is in a number?

In Western culture, there’s a lot of luck in the number seven — seven wonders of the world, seven planets in the ancient world, seven days for God to create the universe, among others. But in Chinese culture the number seven is to be avoided. July is the seventh month and is considered to be the month of the ghost.

Thirteen is considered unlucky by plenty, but not the Italians. They say the number represents St. Anthony — the patron saint of finding things or lost people. In China and Japan, the number four is unlucky, as it is like the word for "death," while eight is lucky, because it sounds similar to "prosper."

Whatever your theory on numbers, one thing is for certain. The number your pick draws in the Kentucky Derby could decide your fate, before you even place a bet. Going back to 1930, when the starting gate was introduced at Churchill Downs, here are the key numbers you need to know.

Avoid 17 at all costs

Incredibly, post 17 is the one to avoid. In 42 attempts from this stall, there has never been a winner from post 17, and it remains the only position never to have a Kentucky Derby winner.

That could have all changed last year, with hot favorite Tiz the Law in 17, but Barclay Tagg’s horse could only finish second to Authentic.

That was just the fourth time a horse from position 17 has finished in the money, a strike rate of just 9.5%. Tiz The Law was the first horse in more than 30 years to even make the top three from position 17. The last to get there was Forty Niner, who also finished second in 1988.

The 60-year curse of post 14

While position 17 has never produced a winner, position 14 is on a 60-year losing streak. Carry Back won from this position in 1961, but we haven’t seen a victory there since. Fourteen is the only draw not to have a horse come in the top three in the last 11 years.

Impeachment was the last horse to draw 14 and finish in the money, 21 years ago. If your horse gets drawn in 14, it’s time to worry!

You’d rather be on the outside than the inside

Although positions 14 and 17 have been tarred with bad fortune, you wouldn’t fancy being on the inside, either. It’s been 35 years since the Kentucky Derby winner was drawn in either of the inside two positions.

Ferdinand was the last winner from post 1 in 1986, while you have to go back another eight years, to Affirmed, to get the last winner from position 2.

Both draws have a better win rate than post 3, 4, or 6, though, so the inside is fraught with danger.

In terms of win rate for those five positions, it goes 8.8% from post 1, 7.7% from post 2, 5.5% from post 3 and 4, and just 2.2% from post 6. Other than 17, getting drawn in the 6 hole is the worst result for winners in the Derby.

This might suggest that getting a clear run and avoiding congestion is more valuable than saving ground on the inside.

The strive for five

While most inside positions are undesirable, lady luck has often visited position 5. Post 5 has an 11% win rate and 24% of horses in the top three have come from that gate, more than any other draw in the Derby.

Always Dreaming in 2017 was the last winner from the position, but more telling is that in eight of the last nine editions of the Kentucky Derby, the runner from post 5 has finished in the top five.

Lucky number 18

If you miss out on post 5, then you want to be on the outside. We know that 14 and 17 are seriously unlucky, but 70% of the winners in the last decade have come from position 13 or wider.

Post 18 is the position in recent form, as Authentic won from that spot in 2020 at 8-1 and Country House won from there in 2019, when he became the second highest priced winner in Kentucky Derby history, courtesy of the stewards!

Could draw 18 scoop three in a row?

Which post to bet in the 2021 Kentucky Derby

The Derby draw April 27 and is well worth watching. Keep your eyes on whoever gets drawn in 5 and in 18, in particular.

History suggests it’s a significant negative to be in 1, 2, 3, 4, or 6, while there is misfortune cast over 14 and 17, based on the last 90 years.

Barring 14 and 17, any horse drawn in stall 13 or above is worth another look.