In a lot of horse races the post positions are very important. A poor draw can seriously hamper the ability of a horse to perform, and have to seriously be considered when handicapping the race. The Preakness is, for the most part, not one of those races. The post position at the Preakness, with only a few exceptions, is far less of a factor than in most races. Handicappers that dwell too much on the post positions are likely making a mistake. So why isn’t post position much of a factor at the Preakness? Here are four reasons to consider:
Layout of the race – Horses have a long way to move in the race before they have to encounter their first corner – the whole length of the stretch. That means there is little urgency for horses to fight for position along the rail because there is a lot of time for the field to sort itself out. If the corner is looming, the horses need to fight to get inside to minimize the distance they have to travel. That can be tough for outside horses to do. At the Preakness outside horses aren’t necessarily handicapped.
Length of race – The shorter a race is, the more pressure horses face to get to the rail, fight for position, and set themselves up for the finish. However when a race is as long as the Preakness, there is less urgency. As long as the horse comes out of the gate cleanly and settles into his stride comfortably it is often possible for a horse to overcome poor early positioning or a bad post position in time to perform well at the end of the race.
Smaller field than the Derby – In the Kentucky Derby the 20 horse field presents many obstacles for horses. It is important that horses are in a position that can minimize their chances of facing problems. The Preakness field is at least six horses smaller than the Derby, and often smaller than that. Fewer horses mean fewer potential issues, and less importance for the post position.
Clearer pace scenario – In the Kentucky Derby the pace can be unpredictable and often wild. There are frequently several speed horses in the race, and those horses can push the pace early and cause chaos later on. Because of this, the post positions can be reasonably important because horses can be affected by the first horses they see when leaving the gate. In other words, the pace can often be determined by the post position draw. The Preakness is a smaller field, and the pace is typically more obvious and less frenzied. Because the likely pace situation is more obvious, trainers and jockeys are less likely to aggressively challenge the pace early on. In other words, this race is far more likely to look like it is expected to early on. As a result, post positions are less crucial.
While the post position draw usually isn’t important in the Preakness there are still a couple of situations to consider:
Inside isn’t ideal – While horses can win from anywhere in the Preakness – more so than in many races – it still isn’t ideal to draw the three inside post positions in the race. Between 1995 and 2012, no horse won out of the 1, 2 or 3 gate. You likely don’t need to be too worked up by that trend, however, because in the 16 years before, eight winners emerged from those three inside gates.
Where is the speed? – Any time you are looking at post positions in a race, speed is what you should consider the most. For example, if there is only one speed horse in the race then there isn’t likely to be an issue because he is likely to find the lead. If there are multiple speed horses, then their positioning is crucial. If one of the horses is more likely to get to the lead than the other then that horse is more likely to dictate the pace. If two speed horses are side by side then it will be hard for the jockeys to relax those horses because they will lock onto and challenge each other. As a result, the pace could be swift.