Horse Racing


Review by Joe Santulli



Graphics: 7

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

These high-colored horses must have been bred near a nuclear test site!1979.

1979... it’s been almost TWENTY years, and to this day, no one has made a better horse racing simulation than Mattel’s 1979 release, aptly titled Horse Racing.

I’ve played a few of them, even very recently. Winning Post for the Saturn is a decent "own a race horse" simulation, but does not allow any interactivity during the race. It’s also tedious in its presentation, forcing you to pay attention to every little detail. I don’t care how much the horse needs to eat. Just give me the reins! Another simulation, Virtua Gallop (and Virtual Gallop 2!) allows you to ride the horse and isn’t too bad of a game but really lacks in the gambling area. A few PC games came close to the Intellivision game, but no real challengers. Not yet.

It isn’t to say that anything released in the past 20 years isn’t worthwhile. No, I’m saying that nothing has attained the greatness of this one. Mattel found the perfect balance of strategy and action that hasn’t been re-discovered since.

Horse Racing is playable by six at once, although only two can actually control a jockey at any given time. Each game is composed of ten races of varying lengths and weather conditions, and eight horses in the field. Four of the eight race at a time. As the player, you can gamble to "win" (there’s no "place" or "show" probably because there are only four horses!) or "exacta", where you bet which will be the first and second place horse. "Win" bets pay at the odds posted just before the race, and "exacta" bets always pay 15 to 1.

The betting sheet is very well done considering the limited space on the screen. For each horse you can see its current odds, its previous three race times, the length and type of race (dry, wet, or turf), and the order the horses it raced with came in on that race. With all of this knowledge, you can make a tactical bet. It isn’t all luck, as many racing sims have forgotten. The later in the game you get, the better the information. Most games I’ve played with a group of people result in an intense tenth race where everyone has gambled everything they have and the two best jockeys are in control! As surprising as it may sound, Horse Racing is both an excellent party game and an exciting experience.

The artificial intelligence is right up there, especially considering the year it was made. Horses behave randomly from game to game - don’t expect "Green" to race like it did last time you played. The field is cleared with every new night at the track. Horses behave differently, but consistently across races. Be sure that at least one of those eight horses is an excellent turf runner, another is a mudder, several are strong starters and several more have good endurance. Your success in the game will ultimately be how quickly you can pick out each horse’s strengths.

The head-to-head racing is the highlight here. Although the race is basically a horizontal race from left to right, you have many options as a jockey. Besides the expected "blocking" techniques that you’ll have to master, you’ll also need to know when it’s best to coax a horse (which slightly speeds it up during the first half of the race) and when to whip a horse (only allowed once, gives it a super speed boost that results in decreased performance when it wears off).

I’ve always been a big fan of trackside gambling, which is perhaps why I’m a bit biased on this game. It accurately presents the sport within its limits and is guaranteed to be a hit with a crowd of people. One of my favorites on the Intellivision system.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 24, 2003 06:35 AM