Played a four-player game at BGG Con #2, with Ben, Keith, and my wife Jessica. It was a 3-race session, and we each controlled two horses.
Winning is determined by cumulative score over the 3 races, points being earned for placing 1st through 4th in any particular race.
In race 1, I started in positions 1 and 2 and felt like I had a good hand of cards. I shot off to the rail and hugged the first curve, feeling confident. I was already planning my victory cheers, when suddenly other horses started flying by on the outside. Before I knew it, I was limping over the line in 7th and 8th! When I saw that I wasn't going to place in the top 4, I conserved cards and trotted over the line--a decision with some pluses and minuses. Jessica took 1st, and I think 3rd.
In race 2, I lined up in 7th and 8th, and spent nearly the entire race trying to find a single hole to thread my way up through. Despite strong cards (I kept my remaining high cards from race 1 that I conserved), the other horses were just too clumped for me to break through, and racing along the outside wasn't getting me up fast enough. In a late surge, I was able to place 4th with one horse, but the other finished 8th again. Jessica made another strong showing, and I believe it was Keith who took 1st.
Race 3 featured the steeplechase obstacles, or "horsey speed bumps"! This added a significant element of risk, as it is possible to get your horse "impaled" on the wall and eliminated from the race. Starting the race, both of my hands were full of high cards, but violet in particular was just plain gaudy (3 or 4 jokers, which allow you to ignore the handicap while leading). I knew I had the cards to win, but deciding how long to hold back before sprinting is the hard part. Wait too long and you might not have time to get in front. Go too soon and you might not be able to stay in front before the horsey peloton gets you (due to the handicapping mechanic). The race was full of thrills and a few spills (Jessica lost one horse on a gate). I was able to pull out in front on the back straightaway and the cards plus a few fortuitous dice rolls allowed me to get both horses leading on the final corner. In the final sprint there was a lot of frenzied maneuvering, but somehow I managed to finish 1st and 2nd! But sadly, it wasn't good enough for the overall win due to my poor showings in races 1 and 2.
Final tallies: Jessica and Keith - 110 (tied), Tyler - 80ish, Ben - 10.
A note about Ben's score: he played strongly and had good position on every final straightaway. But 3 races in a row, he found himself leading without low cards. Due to the handicapping mechanic, this meant he was forced to play a high card and not move that turn (if you play higher than the handicap, you forfeit the move). His horses were always spent at the end, I guess!
Thoughts and Observations
Game feels overall very much like Formula De. Similar decisions, counting, maneuvering. The alternating cards/dice mechanic is good, as it adds another layer. The game system models horse racing admirably, as things "feel" like a horse race - final sprints, threading gaps, swinging outside, etc.
Down sides are that things can take a while (just like Formula De) due to all the counting. Also, there is a fair amount of luck in the game in the way the cards are distributed between races (everyone has same cards overall, but in any given race you might draw a bum hand...theoretically to be balanced by the good cards waiting for you in the next race, I guess).
I enjoyed the session, but not sure how often the game would come out if I owned it. Too many other good options for 2-3 hours.
I think you had 100. At least I managed to eke out one 4th place finish.
I'd like to try this one again with simultaneous card selection. I think that would speed up the game quite a bit.