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Homeracing

Explaining program numbers and post positions

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

May 11th, 2022

If you’re just getting started betting on Thoroughbred horse races, it can be easy to confuse program numbers and post position numbers. Aren’t they pretty much the same thing?

Well, no… not quite. Actually, not at all. Knowing the distinction between program numbers and post positions is critical for placing sound wagers, so let’s explore the definitions and differences between the two sets of numbers.

What are program numbers?

A program number is the number each horse wears on its saddlecloth. It’s the number that appears alongside the name of each horse in the betting program or past performances. Most importantly, the program number is the number you use when placing bets.

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An excerpt from Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances, showing a program number (6) alongside the name of a horse (Seachrome).

What are post position numbers?

A post position number indicates the gate position from which a horse will start in a race. The starting gate is comprised of identical stalls lined in a row; the horses enter and stand ready until the gates open, sending the field away to a clean start. In North American Thoroughbred racing, where the majority of racetracks are shaped like ovals, post 1 is the gate position closest to the inner rail. Post 2 is the second slot from the rail, post 3 is three slots out, and so on.

Importantly, post position numbers are not used when placing bets.

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An excerpt from Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances, showing a program number (1) that differs from the assigned post position (post 2, or pp2).

Do program numbers and post position numbers match?

Some confusion stems from the fact Thoroughbred races in North America typically assign program numbers based on post positions. If a horse draws post 1, it is usually given the program number 1. A horse drawn in post 12 similarly receives program number 12. This can give the impression post positions and program numbers are identical.

But there are exceptions to this tendency. If a race features a coupled entry (two horses running as a single betting interest), they will be assigned the program numbers 1 and 1A, regardless of which post positions they have drawn. #1 might be starting from post 6, and #1A from post 9, which understandably throws off the correlation between all the other post positions and program numbers in the field.

Scratches can also affect the relation between program numbers and post positions. If a race draws 12 entries, and #7 scratches, it’s customary for all the horses drawn outside of #7 to shift inward one slot in the starting gate to eliminate the gap. Thus, #8 starts from post 7, #9 from post 8, and so on.

Outside of North America, the correlation between program numbers and post positions can break down even further. In England, for example, program numbers are assigned based on the amount of weight each horse will carry, and the program numbers have no connection to post positions.

If post positions play a role in your handicapping, you’ll want to pay close attention to whether or not the program numbers correspond with post positions. Maybe you’re looking for an inside-drawn runner and you’re thinking you like the chances of #2, only to realize #2 is actually starting from post 14.

Should I bet on program numbers or post positions?

The biggest takeaway here is to bet on program numbers, not post positions. If you want to bet on a horse named “Sure Winner,” slated to start from post 6 but listed as #2 in the betting program, the number you want to bet is #2.

So long as you keep this in mind (and are happy with the post position assigned to #2), you can be confident you’re betting the horse you intended to bet. Good luck!

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