Jul 25 2018

Saratoga Post Positions – On Dirt

Horses in Gate

Post positions in and of themselves are not important. Post positions relative to where the starting gate is located on the track, the running style (e.g. early speed vs. closer) for each horse, and the size of the field are quite important.

For example, an inside post position when the gate is located only a few hops from the first turn is helpful to almost any horse, and greatly advantageous to a horse with fast-breaking early speed. On the other hand, an outside post position in the same situation is a serious disadvantage. Even if the horse has enough speed to run up to the front before the first turn, he must use some energy to get there, which could compromise his chances later.

If he cannot get to the front by the first turn, then he risks losing precious ground to the field going wide around the turn. And if the horse is not in the capable hands of a quality jockey, he might end up going wide around successive turns as well. He could end up running substantially more distance than the other horses located to his inside.

In other circumstances, the outside post can be an advantage. If the starting gate is located at the beginning of a long, straight run to the first turn, a horse lacking quality tactical speed might get caught inside by other horses passing him early. As where the horse on the outside can let the frontrunners vie for the lead, while he settles in behind them, usually in a favorable position flanking the horses caught inside.

Keeping these things in mind, here’s a look at the track configuration for the main track at Saratoga, along with the starting gate location for commonly run distances at the Spa:
Saratoga Main Track

Notice that the starting gate for the 1 1/8 (9f) distance is located immediately before the first turn.  This creates a big disadvantage to horses in outside post positions at 9 furlongs.

Contrast that to races held at 7 furlongs, where the starting gate is located in a chute to the far right. Horses have the entire length of the backstretch to get into position before having to make their first (and only) turn for a 7f race. This makes the outside post position a non-issue, and in fact sometimes an advantage for horses that like to run “uncovered.” You will hear trainers use this term sometimes to refer to horses that do their best running from the outside of the pack.

The 1 1/8 (9f) distance is a good one to consider when comparing to another track, Belmont, where many horses ran just prior to the Saratoga meet. The location of the starting gate for 9f races at Belmont is considerably different than Saratoga. Below is a diagram of the Belmont dirt track.

As you can see, 9 furlong races at Belmont start in a location where horses have the entire backstretch to get into position before they hit their first (and only) turn.  This makes 9 furlong races at Belmont more like 7 furlong races at Saratoga when it comes to the significance of the post position.

Let’s look at the video replays for a couple of 9 furlong races, one at Saratoga, the other at Belmont, to help demonstrate the difference in post position for these two tracks.  The first is the 2016 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.

Did you see how Laoban (#2) was able to get good position early and keep others at a distance around the first turn?  From there jockeys seemed content to allow Loaban, who was 27-1, to set the pace alone.  He cut the corner nicely in the turn for home and was able to hold off all the late comers for a big upset.

Now let’s look at the 2018 Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont.  Again, this is a 9f race, but with much different race dynamics.  Watch how many horses vie for the early lead.  They are able to do this because they don’t have to worry about a turn coming up on them quickly, like it would at Saratoga.

Despite having an inside post position, Core Beliefs (#1) was unable to get much separation from the field and was pursued by three others all the way down the backstretch. Did fighting off these pursuers take just enough out of him to allow Blended Citizen to run him down in the lane? Might the results have been different if this race had been run at Saratoga, where inside speed has an advantage at 9 furlongs?

It would have been interesting had Core Beliefs run in the Jim Dandy this year, but apparently he is being sent to Monmouth for the Haskell.  Nevertheless, his Peter Pan Stakes gave a good example of the difference between 9 furlong races at Saratoga and Belmont.

Neal Headshot2
By Neal Benoit


The Article Sponsored By ADIRONDACK BEVERAGES (A Favorite Cooler Drink Of Racing Fans at Saratoga)

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