2019 Kentucky Derby Post Position & Traditions

Written by Beulah Martin

The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby in 2019 will be on May 4th the 1st Saturday in May. One thing that has to be determined to make the race fair to all concerned, is what position or gate will each horse start from. I did some research online to make sure I had the facts straight, and this is what I found to be the rules:

What determines the post position or gate that the Kentucky Derby hopeful gets to start from? A number is drawn at random, say the number drawn is #5, then a another drawing is made for a horse that has earned enough points to be a starter, of which there will be 20 this year; and he will be given the post position of #5. This determines that this horse will be loaded into gate #5 for the start of the race. These numbers are not transferable.

The drawing for post position usually takes place on the Wednesday evening before the race. The owners and trainers meet together for the first time. Each having a prayer and a wish that the drawing will be lucky for them and for their horse.

They know their horse and his strengths and weaknesses. Some positions will help their horse and some could turn out to be disastrous.

The luck of the draw will have a big affect on their horses chances.

What impact does Post Position have on the race?

There is strategy involved in wanting certain post positions because the trainers know how their horses like to break from the starting gate. Some prefer to be closer to the inside along the rail, others want the outside where they have more room to run.

The regular starting gate at Churchill Downs has starting gates for 14 horses. Because of the popularity of the Kentucky Derby there is an additional six-stall gate that can be attached. The two sections are joined and will accommodate the 20 horses that the race has invited.

The starting gates will open at the same time just by the press of a button, and the announcer will yell “They’re Off!”

The horses are loaded into the gates 2 at a time.

Gates 1 and  11 would be loaded first,

then 2 and 12 and so on down the line.

10 and 20 are the last horses loaded into the gates.

The horses that are loaded early have to wait the longest while all the horses are safely loaded into their post position. This long wait might cause the horse to get uncomfortable or anxious, which could impact the way the horse ends up running the race.

If the owner or the trainer has more than one horse entered into the Derby they are each treated separately with their own post position.

If one or more of the top 20 horses has to be scratched due to an injury or illness they are allowed to drop out of the race.

There is a designated time period called the scratch deadline. If a horse is dropped before the deadline, the remaining horses will be moved up to fill that spot giving the horses a better post advantage.

At this time there are four horses that are on an “Also Eligible List.” These horses did not make the top 20, but they did earn enough points to be allowed to take the place of a horse that has to drop out of the race for any reason.

As long as the scratch deadline has not occurred these horses, in order of the points they have earned, will be allowed to run in the Kentucky Derby.

They will fill the remaining post positions.

After the Scratch Deadline no horses can be added. However, all horses entered will be moved so empty post positions will be at the far end of the starting gate.

Does one post position give advantage over another

Does one post position give the horse an advantage over another? After all the horse that crosses the finish line first takes home the prize money of $1,860.00.

After the post positions have been drawn and locked in on what horse starts where, the speculation of who will end up winning the $1,860,000 begins in earnest.

The post position of gate #1 is not considered to be very desirable. This colt will not only have to wait the longest for the other horses to be loaded, but as the gates are opened he has a chance to be bumped or squeezed against the rail as the other horses maneuver to get a good position.

The last three post positions of 18, 19, and 20 puts a horse way outside of the norm which means he has to run a long hard run to get into a potential proper position for the first turn.

Some of the most successful starting positions has proven to be gates #2 thru #10

Here is a list of some of the latest Kentucky Derby winners with the post position from which they started to see if any gates prove better than the others.

*Triple Crown winners
Horse The year he won Post position
Justify* 2018 7
Always Dreaming 2017 5
Nyquist 2016 13
American Pharoah* 2015 15
California Chrome 2014 5
Orb 2013 15
I’ll Have Another 2012 19
Animal Kingdom 2011 16
Super Saver 2010 4
Mine That Bird 2009 8
Big Brown 2008 20

It doesn’t seem like any one of the post positions are that much better than the others. Big Brown even won from the supposedly worst post position of #20. But then of course that was Big Brown.

 It will still come down to who gets out of the starting gate without stumbling or falling down. Then he has to run faster or smarter than the other horses and get to the finish line first. Each trainer and owner are sure they have the horse that can do that.

Kentucky Derby traditions

There is probably no other race in the world that has more traditions than the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky in May.

The hats

One of the best loved traditions is the wearing of the hats. These are the most colorful, exotic creations that the women can find to show off their outfits. It’s a fashion show with flair, almost like a costume runway to be truthful.

One of the most famous hat themes is of course the roses. The Kentucky Derby is called the run for the roses and roses are a great tradition at Churchill Downs. The men do not want to be left out. Their choice of hats are a little more reserved, but you can spot some loud and obnoxious jackets that draw attention to the men brave enough to wear them.

The roses

There is a huge garland or blanket of roses that is given to the winning horse in the winner’s circle. This is where the label of “run for the roses” has come from. The blanket of roses is placed over the horses neck and hangs down on each side. The picture of this in the winners circle is what every owner dreams of.

Mint Julep

For over a century the Mint Julep has been the favorite drink of the fans that attend the Kentucky Derby. This Kentucky whiskey and mint concoction has been popular from the beginning of the Derby.

The Old Forester Mint Julep Recipe

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • Sprigs of fresh mint
  • Crushed ice
  • Old Forester Straight Bourbon Whisky
  • Silver Julep Cups

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water together for five minutes. Cool and place in a covered container with six or eight sprigs of fresh mint, then refrigerate overnight. Make one julep at a time by filling a julep cup with crushed ice, adding one tablespoon mint syrup and two ounces of Old Forester Kentucky Whisky. Stir rapidly with a spoon to frost the outside of the cup. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint.

The neat thing is that you can get your drink in a special Julep glass. This is a souvenir glass that you get to keep. Each glass has the name on it  of every winner of the Kentucky Derby

The walk

This is the tradition that is second only to winning the Kentucky Derby. When the Backside announcer calls out “Horsemen, please bring your horses to the paddock for the eighth race, the Kentucky Derby.”

The barn area which has been turned into a giant picnic scene, with barbeque grills and coolers to entertain family, friends, and help, begins to clear out. The announcement brought a moment of silence as owners and trainers realize that the big moment has finally arrived. The friends and family who are there to support their Derby entry form a parade group around the owner, trainer & horse to escort them in true fashion.

The Kentucky Derby horses are ready for the quarter-mile-walk across the track and into the paddock or saddling area. As far as can be seen there are people on their feet in the grandstand cheering.

Call to post

When the horses have been saddled and last minute instructions given to the riders the bugler belts out the call to post.  The jockeys are given a leg up on their horses.They circle once around the owners and the trainers for one last check then they head out to the track. At this point the trainers have done all they can do to prepare their horse. Now it is up to the Jockey and the horse.

My Old Kentucky Home

The singing of this song at the start of the post parade is one of the most beloved traditions of the Kentucky Derby. It is a tradition that moves even the most hard hearted geezer to get misty eyed and proud.

My Old Kentucky Home was written by Stephen Foster in 1850. It is performed by the University of Louisville marching band.

The horses will be led by a pony horse out on the track to parade in front of the grandstand as they make their way to the starting gate. Each will take their turn to be loaded up into the post position that they have been assigned to.

After all this tradition the rest is history. The race will be logged into the history books. The winner will go on to a long history of standing at stud and bringing millions to his owner.

The owner’s and trainer’s will be on the hunt to find their next years Derby Contender. The rest of us will be looking forward to the 1st Saturday in May next year, when we can enjoy it all over again.

There is an Arabian proverb that says: “The horse is God’s gift to man.” No where is that better understood and appreciated then in the Sport of Kings, horse racing.  Good luck to you and Happy Trails

Related Questions

Why are races always run counterclockwise? Putting their left foot forward (which is called a left lead) and leaning into the turn gives more power and balance. The right foot in the back is the most powerful and as it reaches up in the running stride he can cover more ground with his strongest leg. It also looks more natural.

Why do all horses celebrate their birthdays on January 1st? The industry has to have a single date to make it more uniform. The date of January 1st was chosen based on the horses breeding season.  It standardized horse racing and allows horses to be put in their age brackets for races.