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2015 Kentucky Derby pace preview: Carpe Diem could surprise

Or will American Pharoah reign supreme on Saturday evening?

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

A $2 million purse is up for grabs at the 141st Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Contested at a distance of nine furlongs from legendary Churchill Downs, the Derby is carded as the 11th of 13 races. NBC Sports will televise the race live at 6:43 p.m. ET with a full series of undercard races to be seen on NBCSN throughout Saturday. Find the full broadcast schedule here for Derby Weekend.

In-depth analysis of the 2015 Kentucky Derby including Pace Figures and Form Cycle Pattern of each starter follow. Please refer to the Legend or Pattern Guide for back-up definitions and patterns.

California Chrome won the 2014 Kentucky Derby with a 79.1 Final Pace Figure. As a point of comparison, here are the Pace Figures for all runners going into the 2014 Derby as well as the four furlong and final pace figures for each of the 2014 Derby runners.

No. 1 Ocho Ocho Ocho (50/1)
Elvis Trujillo (jockey)/James M. Cassidy (trainer)

After a stellar 2-year-old season, Ocho Ocho Ocho has not been able to get back to that level as a 3-year-old. He's been beaten by both Carpe Diem and Dortmund his last two starts by a combined 20 lengths. And while he does have a Reversal Form Cycle Pattern in his last start, which is a positive, the door on his chances to even hit the board completely shut when he drew the dreaded No. 1 post.

The Play: Too Slow - the rail and slow final figures make his task all but insurmountable.

No. 2 Carpe Diem (8/1)
John R. Velazquez/Todd A. Pletcher

A $1.6 million purchase as a 2-year-old from the OBS March Sale, Carpe Diem has all but earned his purchase price back ($1.52 million and counting) in his brilliant nine-month racing career. His only loss came in the 2014 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but surrounding that race are four open length wins.

He's raced at four different tracks using a variety of running styles (speed, stalk and close), a very difficult thing for any horse to do, and thus seemingly intuitive and not taught. His sire, Giant's Causeway, had 23 Graded Stakes winners in 2014, ranking him No. 1 in North America in that category. His dam is the only mother in the field to produce a Grade I stakes winner, which means from a breeding perspective he stands out.

His average final Pace Figure is 75.4, which ranks third in this race (behind Dortmund and Firing Line). More importantly, he's run back-to-back 77s, establishing his foundation at that number. It's a figure he should not dip below. You'll notice his last effort of 77.4 was a slight decline while running a SOFT Form Cycle Pattern, which means he won with something left in the tank. The slight decline combined with an easy win can be a better sign than a lifetime top with an easy win.

There's a lot to like, but what can we knock? His trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez are a combined two-for-65 in their Kentucky Derby history. These "connection" stats will certainly sway bettors off him. The second post position is a legitimate disadvantage. His jockey will only be able to see how the horse to his inside and outside break, which means he'll need to react quickly and is unlikely to have a plan.

The Play: Top Contender - the inside draw will inflate his odds, making him an underlay. Exactly what we are looking for in the top pick to win the 2015 Kentucky Derby.

No. 3 Materiality (12/1)
Javier Castellano/Todd Pletcher

The least raced horse in the field, Materiality has three open length wins from his three starts. Only Big Brown (2008 Derby winner) had three starts prior to his Derby victory. However, Materiality looks to overcome "the granddaddy of Derby rules," as only one runner won the Derby having never raced at two years old -- Apollo in 1882. Since 1937, horses in the Derby without a race at two are winless in 57 attempts.

His average Final Pace Figure (via the Value Play view) is 73.8, which puts him mid-pack.

The Play: Regressor - the other runner to have never faced more than nine foes (American Pharoah is the other), too many negatives to back.

No. 4 Tencedur (30/1)
Manuel Franco/George Weaver

This New York-bred horse has only raced at Aqueduct, and up until his last effort, Tencendur wasn't even close to getting into the Derby. His last race was a vast improvement, turning for home in the Wood Memorial on top at 21/1. Yes, he got reined in by an improved Frosted but also proved he can compete at the Grade I level.

His Pace Figures tell an interesting story as well with three positive dirt patterns, all run on off-tracks. Notice the 72 New Pace Top (NPT) on March 7, followed by his lifetime best of 76.4. And while that final figure was a lifetime top, he did it with a manageable 4f figure avoiding the dreaded DTOP.

His average final figure is just 72.8 but he comes from one of the stronger broodmare (mother) lines in the field and I can't get off him now.

The Play: Long shot - the inside post and unknown jockey will keep his odds inflated, what you want to see for a reach underneath.

No. 5 Danzig Moon (30/1)
Julien R. Leparoux/ Mark E. Casse

Finishing second to Carpe Diem in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes has quickly put Danzig Moon on the map, though he's only won once in his career. Bred in Canada, the last north-of-the-border Derby winner was Sunny's Halo in 1983.

He ran a 76 final figure in the Blue Grass, but that's a six-point improvement from his prior race of 70, which is considered a big move along with a lifetime top. While an inside draw is usually not the best place to be, his running style just might appreciate the ability to duck right to the rail.

The Play: Regressor - he will be used by players in the bottom of exotics off his last race but we'll look elsewhere to fill out those slots.

No. 6 Mubtaahij (20/1)
Christophe Soumillon/MF de Kock

The only international runner to compete in the race, Irish-bred Mubtaahij carries the burden of his ancestors: seven Irish-bred horses have competed in the Derby since 1974 with an average finish of 12th. His jockey and trainer connections are among the best in Europe and can't be knocked.

While Predicteform does not yet publish international Pace Figures, his most recent win in the UAE Derby was visually impressive, winning by eight lengths against a good group of international 3-year-olds. His connections are deeply based in Dubai and if the UAE Derby was a home game, the Kentucky Derby is a road trip.

The Play: Too Slow - a lot to ask of a 3-year-old, traveling around the world off his best race lifetime.

No. 7 El Kabeir (30/1) - SCRATCHED

No. 8 Dortmund (3/1)
Martin Garcia/Bob Baffert

Dortmund won the Santa Anita Derby by four lengths, taking his lifetime record to six-for-six with earnings in excess of $1.25 million. His Final Pace Figure was 76.2, a slight regression off his previous 76.9, making it four races in a row where his final figure had decreased. He does possess a win at Churchill, which does alleviate any concerns about handling the surface. His sire, Big Brown, won the Kentucky Derby (2008), one of only three runners in this field that can stake that claim.

The Play: Fringe Contender - he's been a massive favorite each race of his career, which makes his morning-line odds of 3/1 quite appealing.

No. 9 Bolo (30/1)
Rafael Bejarano/Carla Gaines

The only runner in the field to establish a clear foundation on turf, Bolo has made a smooth transition to running on dirt. His two competitive efforts against Dortmund show he is on the cusp of being able to compete with the best 3 year olds in the country.

His average final figure is 75.1, which is fifth highest in the field. He is the only runner to show two positive Form Cycle Patterns back-to-back. Two races lifetime on dirt, with a 75.1/71.5 Compression (COMP) Pattern and a 73.2/73.8 New Pace Top (NPT) Pattern. Individually these two patterns are strong indicators of progression, back-to-back like this means the horse is coming into his own. The NPT is considered the strongest indicator of progression on dirt and it is of note that he is the only runner with that indication.

Sure, he's only got two starts on dirt which is the fewest in the field but he has a couple fast 4f figures of 76 and 78 on turf. West Coast leading jockey Rafael Bejarano gets the call looking for his first in-the-money Kentucky Derby finish in what will be his 10th start.

The Play: Fringe Contender - positive Form Cycle Patterns, a decent post to allow for a variety of jockey tactics and morning-line of 30/1 make for an appealing longshot.

No. 10 Firing Line (12/1)
Gary L. Stevens/Simon Callaghan

A late developing colt, Firing Line has lost to Dortmund by just a head in two races. Combine that with jockey Gary Stevens and an excellent draw of the tenth post (an 11.5 win percentage rate since 1930), and no wonder he's been made the co-fourth choice in this field.

Looking at his Pace Figures, his last race is cause for pause. He ran an 81.3/81.2 in the Sunland Derby winning by 14 lengths with the fastest 4f and final figure of all the starters. His average final figure is 76.5, the second highest in the field, behind only Dortmund. His four furlong average is 77.2, again, second highest in the field behind Ocho Ocho Ocho.

The Play: Regressor - More likely that history repeats itself then this colt is able to pair up final figures.

No. 11 Stanford (30/1) - SCRATCHED

No. 12 International Star (20/1) - SCRATCHED

No. 13 Itsaknockout (30/1)
Luis Saez/Todd A. Pletcher

A distant fourth in the Florida Derby, 20 lengths behind both Upstart and Materiality, Itsaknockout is hard to figure considering the previous comments on the former two runners.

His final Pace Figure average in four races lifetime is under 70, with significant regression from 74 to his most recent 64 in the Florida Derby.

The Play: Too Slow - that's it, period.

No. 14 Keen Ice (50/1)
Kent J. Desormeaux/Dale L. Romans

With a paltry race record of 7-1-0-2 and earnings of $160,000, Keen Ice could likely be one of the longest shots on the board. You've got to hand it to trainer Dale Romans who has raced him in five straight Graded Stakes races, while cashing checks in every start. Romans has been sneaky good in the Derby, finishing third in 2010 (Paddy O'Prado) and 2012 (Dullahan) and fourth in 2011 (Shackleford). The jockey change to Desormeaux should also be considered a positive.

His final Pace Figure average is just 70.8 with a lifetime top of 74, but he does have an off the pace win at Churchill as a 2-year-old where he ran a 72 REV Form Cycle Pattern.

The Play: Mega longshot - if he appreciates the extra ground (which he might) and shows that off the pace running style, he could blow up the tote board in the bottom part of exotics.

No. 15 Frosted (15/1)
Joel Rosario/Kiaran P. McLaughlin

An early career "hanger" (a horse that comes close but doesn't win), Frosted was just one-for-six with four second place finishes before his minor throat surgery which was followed by a big win in the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, a key Derby Prep race.

His Final Pace figure improved from 65.8 to 77.3, a 12-point jump and the biggest improvement from a final figure perspective in the field. However, his four furlong figure regressed from 71 to 65, indicating a runner who is learning to manage his own pace better. Jockey Joel Rosario stays aboard which is a positive.

The Play: Regressor - tough to imagine he can run back-to-back lifetime tops out of the blue.

No. 16 War Story (50/1)
Joseph Talamo/Thomas M. Amoss

Another Midwest runner, War Story has finished behind International Star in his last three starts by a total of eight lengths. The Louisiana Derby was a chance for him to prove he could move forward to a level that would make him Derby competitive; unfortunately he did not.

His last race figures were 72.9/64.2, regression in both the final and four furlong figure from 74.9/71.

The Play: Regressor - Figures heading the wrong way combined with a "no-man's-land" 16 post for a runner without tactical speed looks too tough.

No. 17 Mr. Z (50/1)
Ramon A. Vazquez/Wayne D. Lukas

Mr. Z did not disappoint his show backers in the Arkansas Derby where he ran a distant third to American Pharoah at odds of 20/1. His final Pace Figure of 75.3 was his second highest lifetime and a 10-point positive jump from the prior effort.

He's got a modicum of tactical speed, but that will be neutralized drawing the 17th post. Under normal conditions I would expect a Lukas-trained long-shot horse to try and give headaches to a Baffert favorite. However, in this case both runners have the same owner so it becomes rather unlikely.

The Play: Regressor - too much to do from the 17th post for a runner who has been campaigned like a seasoned racehorse.

No. 18 American Pharoah (5/2)
Victor Espinoza/Bob Baffert

As projected, Pharoah won the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths in what looked like a public workout. His last actual workout was by all accounts in the press phenomenal, so much so that he has been compared to the best horses in the past 35 years.

His sire Pioneer of the Nile ran second in the 2009 Derby while his dam, Littleprincessemma, did little on the track. While on paper and on the track he is already being called a Triple Crown contender, Pharoah is one of only two horses that has never run in a field of greater than nine horses, an important note as he takes on 19 others Saturday. The 18th post should suit his running style perfectly: jockey Victor Espinoza will have a clear view of his competitors inside.

From a Pace Figure perspective his Arkansas Derby effort was an 80.2/78.9 (final/4furlong) Double Top (DTOP) Form Cycle Pattern. Defined as a race in which the horse has run its best 4F and final Pace Figures by a notable margin, it is considered a negative designation and a sign of potential regression.

The Play: Regressor- he could run through his last final figure as great horses can follow lifetime best after a lifetime best. The pre-race hype and morning-line favorite of odds of 5/2 make for a difficult decision on how to play the race unless you could bet him to win the Triple Crown.

No. 19 Upstart (15/1)
Jose L. Ortiz/Richard A Violette, Jr.

Upstart, one of three New York-bred horses this year, would like to join Funny Cide (2002) as the only New York winner. In a similar vein to El Kabeir, his figures look like a horse that peaked early in his 3-year-old season.

The Play: Regressor - would need a big jump in his final figure to compete, which looks extremely unlikely.

No. 20 Far Right (30/1)
Mike E. Smith/Ron Moquett

A distant second to American Pharoah in the Arkansas Derby, Far Right is a come-from-behind type runner who has been at the back of the pack in his last four starts, which means he could be dead last coming from the outside post. Jockey Mike Smith stays aboard and is one of the best big race jocks in the business. Smith excels on late running horses (think Zenyatta), but his Derby race record is just one-for-20.

His Final Pace Figure last race was a 76.5, a clear lifetime top and well above his career average of 71.4.

The Play: Too Slow - unless an unreal speed duel takes place up front, he will have too much work to do from way behind.

No. 21 Frammento (50/1)
No Rider/Nicholas P. Zito

After a late defection Thursday afternoon by Stanford, Frammento scratches in off the also eligible list and inherits the outside post, No. 20. While you can't win it unless you run, pundits might say this longshot had his day in the sun by getting into the race.

He's earned only $140,000, which puts him dead last in money earned in the field. He has just the one win, breaking his maiden as a two year-old. Beaten by a combined 25 lengths against the likes of Carpe Diem and Upstart, you are looking at the expected longest shot in the race at post time.

Interestingly enough, his most recent final figure was a 74.1 and highest of his career but there is significantly more chance that he regresses off that top.

The Play: The first also eligible to race in the Derby, his odds of running were 50/1, while his odds of winning should be north of 100/1.

Dan Zucker is a co-founder of (and, a horse racing data analytics company that focuses on how horses are progressing or regressing coming into a race. Zucker is a thoroughbred owner and partner and has campaigned stakes runners - Quiet Meadow, Street Life and Pianist and his current pride and joy, Catch My Drift.

Read more about how works here.