The Post Position Argument: We Need a Modernist's Eye

The belief that thoroughbreds that are drawn to wide gate positions have less of a chance to finish first may not be accurate.

Updated: March 20, 2020 • 5:55 AM EST

Horses led to starting gates may not have a better chance of winning depending on placement.

It might seem trivial, considering the state of the world under the yoke of COVID-19; but this past week, several turf writers produced articles (example 1, example 2, example 3), yet again, concerning what I like to call the "Post Position Argument" — That being, when a thoroughbred is drawn wide and assigned a gate position of say, 14, the likelihood of them pulling off a victory is very difficult.

I am always amazed at this claim. There is no evidence that on any given day that a horse that emanates from one of these spots cannot win. I get it, if it’s a sprint, or say five or six furlongs on the dirt or turf, ok, point taken. But, when we’re talking about races that are a mile to a mile and a half, it makes no difference in my mind.

That is the situation that Modernist, the Bill Mott-trained horse, has found himself in when it comes to this Saturday's Louisiana Derby at the Fairgrounds Racecourse in New Orleans. He drew the No. 14, which is not necessarily something negative at all. Clearly though, the morning-line oddsmakers at the Fairgrounds thinks it’s not good for him either, because they tagged him with M/L odds at 6-1. This is hardly favorite status, especially considering that he wired the field in the second half of the Risen Star (in what many are calling a weak draw) on this very track last month.

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Look, I am not complaining. Don't get me wrong, this plays right into my strategy. Junior Alvarado, Modernist's jockey and Mott confidant in the saddle, is good with any type of horse, in my opinion. So, him beginning the race outside does not concern me one bit. Now that the Louisiana Derby has been stretched out to a mile and 3/16, the idea that a horse can get caught too wide is frankly absurd.

To me, this is an issue of fake news, to quote The President. What we need to focus on is keeping something like analyzing "race shape" as equitable as possible. Maybe, it just isn't something that can be accomplished. For years, loads of turf writers have made this argument.

What I am thinking about are the larger reflective truisms that continue to be trotted out (no pun intended) every time a race is drawn. Now, granted, everyone is entitled to their opinion; but I would think that by this point, horse racing has established itself as data driven, where numbers produce results.

I think one of the reasons why this sport is so disliked and has such issues attracting news fans is the continued confusion about what the numbers mean. In other words, if we continue to allow these tropes, then we won’t have a leg to stand on.

Recently, I was doing some background reading into historical betting on horse racing (also called Instant Racing in some circles).

Have you heard of it?

This was an idea propagated a number of years ago by "racinos,” companies that have both track and casino as one. During off-race periods, you as the bettor could approach a machine with a screen and place wagers on thoroughbred races that were run in years past. To eliminate cheating the game, you cannot tell what race it is or look up who wins. Some have a handicapping feature, which makes the past performances form fairly easy to read compared to the ones for actual races today.

If you like a horse with front-end speed on the dirt, you can choose that; or if you like ones that close well, you can make that selection. Developed by the Stronach Group, which owns a mass of tracks, including Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park among them, the machines even have an "auto cap" button that picks the horses for you.

I do not know how I feel about these machines. They are taking the "live racing" component out of the equation by making the sport too mechanical. But, I must admit, at least we do not have to hear about post positions and how that is an impediment to a horse's success.

What I would suggest is that professional handicappers take care with the assertions they make by acknowledging facts and not fiction. If oddsmakers are buying into these arguments that are false, is that helping the situation? I am not sure.

As for Modernist and his quest for back-to-back wins for Mott and the connections, I think he will get it done. Even though the Kentucky Derby has been moved to early September (which he would have run in), I think Modernist has a legitimate chance to make waves on Saturday in New Orleans.

If you can wager online, I would advise loading up. 6-1? That would be a dream.

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