04/02/2004 1:00AM

Are inside posts as potent as many believe?


LEXINGTON, Ky. - At some race meets, post positions are not especially important on the main track. That has not been the case at Keeneland, where some bettors have been known to love the inside posts so much that they always box posts 1, 2, and 3 in each exacta before making any additional bets based on handicapping.

I recently checked the win percentages for each post position in sprint and route races on the dirt at the two meets run last year, and confirmed the expected trend that inside posts were preferred. But the details contained some surprises.

The sprint results were dramatic in April, with a "golden rail" bias. Horses in post 1 won 20 percent of their starts. Posts 2 through 4 succeeded in 15 percent of their races. That dropped off significantly to 10 percent for posts 5 through 8. Posts 9 through 12 were all but hopeless with just 1 winner from 77 starters. The erosion actually started with post 8 in this sample. Horses drawn there won 5 percent of their races, with post 9 going 1 for 33 for 3 percent. Posts 10, 11, and 12 were shut out in 44 chances.

In October, posts 1 through 4 won at a 10 percent rate in sprints. The win percentages for posts 5 through 9 were very similar at 11 percent. That was the cut-off point, since posts 10 through 12 won just 5 of 112 races, for a low 4 percent success rate.

Clearly, outside posts have yielded subpar results in main-rack sprints at Keeneland, but should bettors constructing exacta or trifecta tickets make post 9 the cutoff point based on the October results, or should they follow the April results, which suggested that horses drawn outside of post 7 should be avoided?

The golden rail was especially powerful in route races in April. Post 1 was dominant with 11 wins from 33 tries, for a remarkably high 33 percent winners. Taken as a larger group, posts 1 through 4 won at a 15 percent rate. That number dropped to 9 percent for posts 5 through 8, then climbed to 13 percent for posts 9 and up. The trend was similar in October. The inside and outside posts were best, while the middle slots underperformed. Posts 1 through 4 won at a 13 percent rate. Posts 9 through 12 did just as well. But horses in posts 5 through 8 won just 8 percent of the time. Could this weird trend be anything more than a short-term aberration? And how often does post 1 dominate route races?

The best way to answer these questions was to expand the sample, so I studied the last 10 Keeneland meets beginning with April 1999.

Although the rail slot has occasionally posted strong numbers in sprints as it did last year, the long-term trend from 735 races shows that results from posts 1 through 3 have been very similar at 14 percent. Posts 4 through 7 were clustered at 10 percent. The 8, 9, and 10 slots were a cut below at 8 percent, but much of that difference can be explained by the fact that they had more opponents in those races than the inside posts had when they participated in races with small fields. The big drop-off was in post 12. Horses stuck out there could safely be ignored most of the time, with only 2 wins from 103 tries.

In the group of 331 route races, the rail turned out to be only slightly better than post 2 at 17 and 16 percent. There was a drop-off at post 3 that carried over through post 7. That group averaged 11 percent wins. The second drop-off was in posts 8 through 11, which averaged nearly 7 percent wins. Post 12 was less than half as successful, with just 1 winner from 29 attempts, for 3 percent. As might have been expected, the favorable results earned by horses in the outside posts in routes last year did not hold up.