BELMONT STAKES: Does the Post Matter?
Copyright Robert Crowne Assoc, June 10, 2011
The post position draw for this Saturday's Belmont Stakes took
place Wednesday, and final jockey assignments were announced. Here are the results:
Master of Hounds
Ruler On Ice
Jose Valdivia Jr
Ignacio Correas IV
H Grahm Motion
Mucho Macho Man
Isn't He Perfect
Animal Kingdom was installed as the 2-1 morning line
favorite and Schackleford's odds were
set at 9-2, despite Shackelford having beaten Animal Kingdom just three weeks
ago in the Preakness. The morning line
odds are set by the track racing secretary, and are the closest modern equivalent to the odds that were set by on-track bookmakers before the advent
of parimutuel wagering. Once parimutuel
betting starts to have an effect, Shackleford's draw of the #12 post may work
to increase the gap in odds versus Animal Kingdom.
The inside posts in the Belmont Stakes are thought to have
an advantage, and the outside posts are thought to have a disadvantage. The reasoning is based on Belmont's main track
being exactly 1 ½ miles around, and the Belmont Stakes being a 1 ½ mile
race. As a result, the race starts at the
finish line, which is only a short distance from the Clubhouse turn. The proximity of
the start to the turn is believed to allow the horses leaving from the inside 1-3 posts to save ground, while causing the horses leaving from the far outside 10-12 posts to travel a longer
distance into the turn and exert themselves more than the inside horses in
order to gain good position.
The theory of post-position bias is often supported by a
statistic showing that Post 1 has produced 22 Belmont stakes winners, while
only 6 horses have won from Post 12.
The number of wins attributable to Post 1 is almost double the number of
wins from any other post. Posts 3 and 5
stand tied for second with 13 wins each.
Post 2 has 11 wins. The number
of wins for horses breaking from Post 12 is half the number of wins from Post
Based on the above theory, breaking from Post 1 would
benefit Master of the Hounds. Despite that, the NYRA Racing Secretary, P.J.
Campo, set the odds on Master of the Hounds at 10-1. Before the post positions were assigned, Mike Watchmaker
estimated the odds on Master of the Hounds would be 8-1. Obviously, Master of the Hounds does not
seem to have been given any credit in the morning line for his rail
Perhaps the NYRA racing
secretary knows that the post position bias attributed to Post 1 is not what it
is generally believed to be. In fact, the effect of any post position bias has been
exaggerated, and the statistics used to support the theory are faulty.
The theory of a post position bias fails to take into
account an intentional track bias designed to negate the effect of the greater
distance that the outside horses must run.
The track at Belmont slopes inward toward the rail. Being able to run downhill to the rail
compensates for the extra distance that must be run to get there. The wide profile of the clubhouse turn also
lessens the negative effect of the turn.
The problem with the cited statistics is that they are based
on every Belmont Stakes race since 1867, including 40 races run at different
tracks during the years 1867 to 1904, and 1963 to 1967. The statistics also include 15 races from
1905 to 1919 that were run in the opposite direction. Further complicating the situation, in 1958 the track shortened
the far turn by 96 feet, and in 1990, to accommodate the Breeders' Cup, the
track widened the clubhouse turn.
Finally, the very low number of wins from Post 12 can be attributed more
to the fact that many races did not have 12 entrants. Post 12 can't win a race in which there is no Post 12.
Eliminating the years in which the race was run on different
tracks, and the years in which the race was run clockwise instead of
counterclockwise, we find that Post 1 has won 16 times in 87 races
(18.3%). Even though that was still the
highest number of wins among the post positions, the general distribution of
wins in these 87 meaningful races begins to look more like it is attributable
to luck than to a bias. The next
highest number of wins in these races comes not from the inside posts, but from
Posts 5 and 7, in the middle of the field.
Those posts had 13 wins each.
Post 3 had 11 wins, but, strangely, post 2 failed to follow the pattern
of the posts on either side of it.
Surrounded by post 1 with 16 wins and post 3 with 11 wins, post 2 only
had 7 wins. Strangely again, even though
posts 5 and 7 each had the second highest number of wins at 13, post 6 between
them had a mere 4 wins. The failure of
the win statistics for each post to follow a predictable inside vs. outside
pattern suggests that luck, and not track bias is at work.
The only clear statistical trend that appears in the 87
meaningful races is that odd number posts win much more often than even
numbered posts. Posts 3,5.and 7
produced 37 winners, while posts 2,4, and 6 were responsible for a mere 22
winners. If we compare instead posts
1,3,and 5 as the odd numbered posts, we get 40 winners from odd numbered posts,
compared to 22 winners from even numbered posts. The difference between odd and even results defies any logical
explanation. The various post position
win results over the meaningful 87 years appear to be random, perhaps with a very slight bias to post 1.
Since 1991, after Belmont widened the clubhouse turn, the
inside posts appear to have lost any remaining hint of an advantage. Posts 1-3 accounted for a mere 5 wins combined in the
20 years through 2010, whichi is exactly equal to the number of wins produced by posts
5-7 combined. The posts with the most wins from
1991 to the present have been Post 4 and 7 with 3 wins each. Between those two, posts 5 and 6 produced just one win
apiece. Posts outside of Post 7
accounted for 35% of all wins. The number
of wins for all posts over the 1991-2010 period is very close to random expectation. The individual win statistics for posts 8-14
have not been considered because those posts did not exist in every race, but
the combined statistics can be deduced from the total wins of posts 1-7, and
those combined statistics do not present any statistically significant
One more factor should be discussed. There is a predicted 50% chance of
thunderstorms for Saturday. The rail at
Belmont becomes very slow and deep when the track is wet. Jockeys familiar with the track attempt to
race all the way out in the four or five path when the track is sloppy. No matter how much extra distance must be
run around the turns, the disadvantage is not as great as the disadvantage
experienced by attempting to run in the deep bog at the rail. Should the track come up wet, the rail horse
will experience a significant hardship on the break, and will need to run
uphill to get off the rail.
Horses for Courses.
Even though there appears to be no general post position bias on a dry track in the Belmont Stakes , any given post may effect individual runners differently. Shackleford has drawn post 12 this year. Shsckleford runs best on the front end. There is no question that a horse must often exert more at the start to get to the front than a horse that is content to drop into the middle of the pack or run at the rear. If Shackelford must duel for the lead with a horse inside of him, he will be off the rail much longer than if he can reach the lead uncontested. Sometimes, for tactical reasons, the jockey on the inside can refuse to let the rider on the outside get to the rail. Thus, the outside post could, under certain circumstances, provide a much greater disadvantage to Shackelford than to a horse such as Animal Kingdom that is content to run at the back of the pack.
In Shackleford’s favor, there are no other true speed horses in this race, and only four horses that have ever both shown gate speed and run well at or near the lead. Those four horses are Mucho Macho Man, Santiva, Stay Thirsty, and Prime Cut.
Mucho Macho Man has drawn post 10, which places the horse in an almost equal situation with Shackelford if jockey Dominguez decides to take Mucho Macho Man to the top. Dominquez has never ridden the horse before, so it can’t be said with certainty what he will do, but Mucho Macho Man has only broken on top in two out of his 10 lifetime races, and the horse did not win either race. Further, the horse had never shown the sort of gate speed that would challenge Shackleford. It is most likely that Mucho will be content to drop in second or third on the rail, a spot from which he runs best.
Santiva, Stay Thirsty, and Prime Cut all have the ability to run on top, but do not normally do so. They little reason to change their usual running styles and challenge for the lead in the longest race they have ever run.
The rest of the field will probably be holding back, hoping someone else goes to the front, and Shackelford should be able to accommodate them easily without the #12 post hampering him at all.
Finally, whether or not the #1 post provides a slight advantage, Master of the Hounds does not have the gate speed to take advantage of it. The horse will likely get shuffled back on the rail and be required to get out in traffic and circle horses in the stretch. As we said earlier, if the track is wet, the post will be a huge disadvantage.