As we head toward Saturday’s Preakness Stakes, analysts are reviewing the post positions and factoring them into the odds. Unlike the Kentucky Derby, which uses a special starting gate to accommodate the field of 20 horses, the Preakness is typically a smaller race, drawing 10-14 horses. This year, there are only 9 contenders:
- Creative Minister
- Secret Oath
- Early Voting
- Happy Jack
How much does the starting position influence results? It’s hard to say. Most trainers don’t want an inside position. While the first post position offers the horse the shortest trip, breaking next to the rail. But there are downsides. Since horses are loaded in numerical order (unless there is an issue), the first horse into the gate has to stand there the longest. Given that racehorses are anticipating the start, this can cause a lot of anxiety. With a large field (like the Derby), horses that break from inside positions can get squeezed out and pushed to the back of the field, too.
At Pimlico, the home of the Preakness, the story is a bit different. In the 1970s and 1980s, Pimlico was considered to be the most unfair racetrack in the U.S. There seemed to be an invisible “path” along the rail, and whoever got to this path first — ordinarily a speed horse breaking from an inside post position — would usually win. This changed Frank De Francis bought Pimlico in 1986. Concerned that the track’s reputation of being unfair jeopardized the importance of the Preakness, he hired John Passero as track superintendent, and told him to eliminate the bias.
The contour of the turns at Pimlico still benefit horses on the inside, especially in races that include two turns, where horses fanned with on the first turn are placed at a disadvantage (by needing to cover more ground) the track is now considered to be fair. Occasional biases may develop for a day or so, based on specific track conditions, but this happens at every track.
Which post positions have the most winners? Post positions 7, 6 and 4 have historically done best. That may put Secret Oath in a good position for a win.