New research challenges Kentucky Derby post positions | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

On Tuesday, May 1, the Churchill Downs race track held a random draw to determine the post positions of horses entered in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.

New research from Paul von Hippel, an associate professor of public affairs, and LBJ School master’s students George Basaly, Ashlee Frandell and Laura Santos finds that post position may not matter at all. In fact, the research finds post position has little or no effect on a horse’s chances to win, place or show.

"$209 million was bet on the Kentucky Derby last year, yet there's been very little analysis to determine if the information provided to the public is accurate and relevant," von Hippel said. "This study was a step toward remedying that."

Santos said she was able to see firsthand how a simple tweak in research design can make a big impact on both results and conclusions. 

"It is important to be somewhat skeptical and carefully consider methodology before making judgments based on any research findings," Santos said.

Basaly said, "To be honest, I didn't quite know anything about horse racing prior to this. I did, however, learn not just about horse racing, but also invaluable skills to dive into evidence-based policymaking using quantitative evidence. I found it fascinating that I got to see how statistics truly paints a story."

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Paul von Hippel is an associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin, where he teaches in the LBJ School of Public Affairs and is affiliated with the Department of Statistics and Data Science. George Basaly, Ashlee Frandell, and Laura Santos are masters students at the LBJ School, where Basaly concentrates on energy and security policy, Santos concentrates on federal policy in Washington DC, and Frandell studies applied statistical modeling.