The Kentucky Derby is a highlight of the US racing calendar, a globally renowned race that makes headlines everywhere. It’s scheduled for May next year and will be the 148th race in history. It is a jewel of the US sporting landscape, in a similar way to another, lesser-known event currently taking place in Las Vegas.
The World Series of Poker is something else the US have that draws the world’s eyes, and whilst it might not have the prestige of the Kentucky Derby, it is a notable event that draws people in.
Over the years, poker has grown in popularity, which has been reflected in some of the horses that have competed in the Kentucky Derby. Horse names come from everywhere, from Sharp Gary in 1974 to Alan-a-Dale in 1902. Some weird and wonderful names are always on the course when the gun goes, and some have been linked to poker.
So, we’ve found four horses from history whose names have strong poker connections to celebrate the World Series of Poker in true Kentucky Derby style. One is even a former derby winner!
Money Moves (2020)
The 2020 Derby was won by Authentic, ridden by John Velazquez. The win earned Bob Baffert’s stable $1.86m, a tidy sum for an afternoon’s work. Further down the rank, outside the money finish, was Money Moves, ridden by Javier Castellano. He finished 22 lengths behind the winner but bore a name that doesn’t quite reflect their finish position. Money moves is relatable to poker; there will be lots of moves by players in Vegas this fall that win them money and lose money. Most of all, money will move between players as well.
High Limit (2005)
You’ll often see poker games described as High Limit, which was also the name of a horse that ran in 2005. Like Money Moves, High Limit wasn’t a success on the course, finishing last, 44 ½ lengths behind the winner, Giacomo. Robert Frankel was the unfortunate jockey who found High Limits didn’t live up to expectation, which some of the defeated poker players will be feeling this fall in Vegas.
Vegas Vic (1971)
Vegas Vic wasn’t the only horse running in 1971 to have gaming themes in their name; On The Money also finished down the ranking. Vegas Vic, ridden by Randy Sechrest, finished sixth in front of 123,000 fans. The obvious World Series of Poker link here is the Vegas moniker; Vegas is synonymous with poker and has been for many, many years.
Ronnie’s Ace (1961)
Whoever Ronnie was, he wasn’t holding an ace in 1961; Alexander Maese rode the horse to a 13th place finish, well behind the winner, Carry Back. There is an obvious poker reference here; an ace is a high-scoring card in poker, and one wonders if someone called Ronnie once managed to pull one out of his sleeve, not literally speaking, in a poker game.
There are lots of variants of poker, one of which is Pot-Limit Omaha. Of course, the 1935 Kentucky Derby winner probably didn’t take their name from the poker variant, but that doesn’t stop the obvious links with the game. Willie Saunders was the successful jockey on that occasion, and in a great year he managed to hit three-of-a-kind, taking home the prize money in the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes too, all on Omaha.