- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2003

The first sports simulation to involve breeding and whipping makes its way to the home entertainment console, and it has nothing to do with the exploits of Marv Albert, Kobe Bryant or Mike Tyson.

It’s horse racing, silly. Fans looking to learn the virtual ways of a jockey, gambler or owner get their chance in Gallop Racer 2003, a challenge as difficult to master as hitting the trifecta at the Kentucky Derby.

First the good news. The title does an excellent job of immersing a human in the sport of kings through a robust Season mode. It offers the ability to personalize the jockey from dressing options to the sleeve color on his puffy shirt and the chance eventually to choose from 3,000 horses to race on 30 tracks.

Life in Season mode begins at the TRA Academy, where a horse (yes, a horse) named Enta will teach the player about riding during the start, middle and home stretches of a race through text tutorials, practice and tests. After a final exam involving all of the elements, the amateur jockey gets assigned a point value and can select a four-legged partner.

Now the fun really begins. Tecmo presents at least 14 nuances to each hoofed mammal and more than 50 latent abilities, such as the effect of centrifugal forces around the corner or performances in the summer, that must be taken advantage of or finely honed in pre- and post-debut training over weeks and months of the season. Also, collecting cash by placing among the top five finishers and betting on races becomes paramount to buying stronger animals, training facilities and new breeding equipment to get the right sire and broodmare together to produce the next Seattle Slew.

During a race, the graphics look spectacular. Through a combination of no less than five onscreen gauges and meters, the jockey must keep his persnickety companion happy by moving him to strategic areas on the track, increasing or decreasing his speed or occasionally using the whip on the poor fellow to give him a bit more acceleration down the stretch.

Now the bad news. This careful balancing act will drive gamers nuts. It takes quite a bit of finesse to become one with the horse and to avoid blowing a race in which barely winning or losing badly can come down to the twitch of a thumb. Over-whipping, chewing up stamina or getting out of the box poorly because of a temperamental animal all play a factor.

Once players get the competition thing down they will enjoy competing on various track conditions and can leave the Season mode to find further challenges against a pal in a Verses mode or just enter races for aggravation.

Overall, Gallop Racer 2003 will find few gaming neigh-sayers thanks to its depth, diversity and Equus callabus micromanagement.

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