How do they choose Epsom Derby stall numbers? Is there a bias?

The Epsom Derby draw bias is notorious and newcomers to horse racing betting should be aware of which gates to avoid 

Epsom Derby stalls


When it comes to racing betting punters are always looking for an extra edge to help pick a winner from the pack. Many of us pour over the race cards at the Grand National or Ascot Gold Cup and try to unearth some hidden data that convinces us to back one horse over another.

Well, when it comes to the Epsom Derby there is actually a very simple way to choose your horse if you’re struggling with the form guide. And that’s the stall number.

You might not believe it but horse racing betting aficionados place a lot of emphasis on which gate each horse at the Epsom Derby starts in. Why is this? Well, Paddy Power is here to explain all in our latest Demystifying Racing guide.

You’ll learn what stalls in horse racing are all about and why they’re vitally important to betting on Epsom.


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What are stalls in horse racing?

Horse racing stalls – also known as gates – are a fixture in many flat races in the UK and Ireland as a means of ensuring a fair start to each race. Horses are pre-assigned a number during a draw and on race day are placed in stalls before the front gates open and they bolt out to race.

The reason racecourses use stalls in the flat season is because races are generally shorter than those in the National Hunt (jumps) season. Because there are no jumps for the horses to vault, there are fewer variables affecting the race and therefore a group start would benefit whichever horse happened to be at the front when the race began. Stalls aim to reduce this bias for shorter flat races.

The Epsom Derby stalls numbers have a great bearing on the race (GETTY)

Horses jostle for position when leaving the stalls in the Epsom Derby (GETTY)

It’s the same in athletics. Marathons don’t use stalls as the advantage gained from leading at the start of the race is negligible. So everyone just huddles together at the start. However, the Olympic 100m final requires athletes to start from blocks in order to ensure an even race.

Epsom has used stalls since 1967 and, while it certainly evens out the fairness of the contest, there is still some bias.

Why is there a stall bias at Epsom?

There is a slight stall bias in the Epsom Derby because of the layout of the racecourse. Around 16 horses run in the Derby each year and line up alongside each other. The racecourse is a left-bending horseshoe that covers 1 mile and 4 furlongs. Now, one would assume the horses in the lower stalls – say 1 to 5 – have an advantage as they can run on the rail and therefore cover less distance.

However, there is actually an early right-bending kink in the Epsom racetrack before the climb up the hill, which means those in the higher stalls have an advantage. Often the lower-stalled horses get bunched up behind the frontrunners at this kink, and struggle to regain the ground.

Epsom Derby draw

Horses charge down the hill on the left-leaning Epsom Derby course (GETTY)

Other racing venues also provide a bias in the stalls. This is particularly pertinent in the USA where American horse racing is generally done on oval racetracks. Being handed an outside gate in a race featuring 16 horses means you’ve got to bolt out of those traps fast and make ground on your rivals. Otherwise you’ll be stuck at the back for the entire loop of the track.

What is the best draw at Epsom?

The most successful gate at the Epsom Derby is number 10. Since stalls were introduced in 1967 draw 10 has produced 10 winners. This includes The Minstrel (1977), Generous (1991) and champion stud Galileo (2001). The most recent winner from gate 10 was Masar in 2018, when he won at odds of 16/1 in a field of 12.

Masar got off to a reasonable start in the Derby but was by no means the leader heading uphill at Epsom. Indeed, he was seventh as they reached the top of the racecourse but jockey William Buick found space on the outside at the turn and charged home to victory.

In 2017 there were 18 horses running and Wings of Eagles won at 40/1 from stall 14 – the biggest upset in the Epsom horse racing odds for 43 years.

In 2021 Adayar won from stall 1 at odds of 16/1. Mojo Star was drawn in the successful 10th stall and finished second. And in 2022 Desert Crown won as the 5/2 favourite despite being drawn in stall 2. Runner-up Hoo Ya Mal ran from stall 3 at odds of 150/1.

What is the worst draw at Epsom?

Being drawn on the inside of the gates – numbers 1 to 5 – is considered bad news for whoever placed an ante-post racing bet on the Epsom Derby. Oath (1999) was the only horse to win from stall 1 for 33 years until Adayar came along. In fact, over this time only two horses even placed!

Desert Crown certainly bucked the trend in winning the 2022 Derby from stall 2.

But those low stalls aren’t alone in rarely producing Derby winners. In 2020 Serpentine became only the second horse to win from gate 12 from the 63 previous runnings with stalls. The first? Australia in 2014. That’s a remarkable stat considering 12 is a high gate.


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