Ever wanted to manage your own horse stable, become a jockey, or bet on horse racing all over the globe? With Final Stretch for PC you now have the opportunity to try all three in one game.

Final Stretch is a horse racing simulation game that allows you to take control of your own horse racing dreams. If you ever dreamed of controlling your own horse-racing stable, Final Stretch might be the game for you. The game provides a decent representation of what horse racing is all about, but can leave the player left out in the barn.

There are three modes in Final Stretch for the player to participate in, Stable, Race and Bet. The Stable section allows you to control your own horse stable by becoming the owner/breeder of the horses. It’s up to you to become a world famous breeder and owner of horses. You have control over the infrastructure, personnel, and the training of the horses. The Race section allows you to control a jockey during the race itself. You decide which way the horse is going to break, how fast to run the horse, and winning as many races as possible. The Bet section gives you the opportunity to bet on horse races all over the globe. Now you can become your own handicapper and determine which horse the money should ride on. It’s up to you to become the source for horse race betting.

All of this sounds great, especially for someone who has always wanted the opportunity to take a chance with horse racing. But all isn’t well at the racetrack. It seems the player has been left out in the cold to pick up after the horses. The interface in the game seems to get in the way of the player “controlling” what’s happening. A horse race is supposed to be an exciting event for everyone, but there isn’t much excitement in this game.

When you start the Stable mode you need to select a Country to locate your stable. You're presented with a big map that has Germany pre-selected for you, so I would assume you could select the United States by clicking on the map. Not so with this game, you had to select the Country from a list at the bottom of the screen. Once you’ve selected the Country, then you select an area to locate your stable. For example, in the United States you have several different states to select. But I noticed one huge omission, especially for someone who grew up in Kentucky. You can’t start off in Kentucky! The Kentucky Derby, one of the most popular horse races in the world is in Kentucky. But I couldn’t select Kentucky as my starting State; I had to select a location “near” Cincinnati, Ohio. I guess this is close enough for most players, but for a true horse-racing fan this might be a huge omission.

To make this even more confusing for me, Churchill Downs is a track that is available to race on. So if Churchill Downs, located in Louisville, KY, is available then why shouldn’t Kentucky be a selectable state? A large percentage of horses that race in the big money races across the country are raised in Kentucky as well. Lexington KY is about two to three hours away from Louisville, but no where is this available for the player. These might be minor points to the player if the game played well, but since it doesn’t we have to focus on this omission.

As mentioned earlier, the player never really feels in control of what’s happening in the game. The interface can be very confusing when starting the game. I couldn’t even select a jockey during Stable mode because I had to have three colors for the outfit. But since the in-game instructions kept saying over and over again to select three colors, I had to select a pre-made character. Once you’ve selected a stable name, owner name and a jockey, then your ready to play. You don’t start off with a horse, so you have to purchase a horse. I knew that most horses are sold at auctions so I selected the auction section. The first horse that I wanted to bid on went for over 1 million dollars, and I only had $200,000. There wasn’t a good explanation as to why the horse went for so much, but if you dig around in the instruction manual you might be able to figure out that each horse is valued by their breeding. If a horse has an excellent breed history, meaning it’s parents were money winners, then the horse will sell for more money. But the game doesn’t provide a tutorial or walk-through to explain to the player how to begin.

But even if you have a horse, doesn’t mean your ready to actually do anything. You still have to select a crew to train the horse, maintain your stable and other day to day functions. The game is broken up into weekly, monthly or event schedule. So you can select to train your horse one week, race it the next, and then have it rest the following week. Or if you like you can select a monthly schedule to control everything. But if you’ve already selected an action item, such as a race or auction, then you can jump to the selected event and bypass the week or month. There wasn’t an option to select a day to day schedule. But figuring all of this out is a game in itself. You want to select a horse to buy, but you might have to wait until the next week or next event. If you hire a crew of workers for your stable, you don’t see them doing anything. You have a moral meter that shows you if their morale is going up or down, but that’s about it. You can also buy additional buildings for your horses that can help improve in the training. But you’re only presented with a top down view of the building, on a very basic map. Nothing fancy.

The Racing section is also a let down. You’re on top of the horse and you do have control over the horse. But it seems all you can really do is control how fast the horse runs. You have to take into consideration how fast the horse is running because he/she could run out of energy by the end of the race. This always seemed to happen every time I tried a race. I would keep the pace of the horse slow or consistent with the rest of the pack. But at the end of the race the horse would always run out of energy, right near the finish line. But you can control the whip and try to get an extra boost of energy & speed. But the end result was always the same, no energy at the finish.

The Bet section is probably the one saving grace for the game. Now if you can win a race that you’ve placed a bet on, then you should consider yourself a handicapper already. Each horse in a race shows information on how much money they’ve won, and past race performances. You can even view a small description from an in-game newsletter that can provide you with clues as to who might win the race. Or if you’re really desperate you can even ask a Bookmaker who will win the race, but for a fee. But once again, the interface really gets in the way. There are item “balls” that you have to select in order to pick a horse. The horses aren’t listed by name when they appear in the item ball, but by number. So you can’t bet on a horse by name, or select a horse by name to place a bet. You don’t have a handy cheat sheet that you can use that provides the horses past performances. You better remember the name and number of the horse when placing your bet. Because if you place the bet and then select another screen before “validating” the bet, then your bet value is gone. You have to start the betting process over again.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay 5.5

Well since the game is composed of three different sections, Stable, Racing and Bet, the gameplay really depends on which section you select. During the Stable mode, you do have the option to control the races of your horses, just the same as in the Racing Mode. But since you never seem to be in real control of the horse, it seems the game is doing whatever it wants to do. Every race seems to end the same way as well, with everyone making one big rush at the end to try and win. But with every race I tried, my horse was trailing way behind because it ran out of energy.

Graphics 5.5

The graphics for Final Stretch are decent but lack any true detail. All of the horses look similar, and the only difference being the horse’s color and color of the jockey’s outfit. The animations of the horses are very jerky and repetitive. Each horse appears to move in the same manner and in the same stride. It’s very hard to distinguish if one horse is running faster by the animation. The jockeys are animated just the same, with a slight difference when they use the whip to speed up the horse. The horse tracks are very hard to distinguish between each other as well. I couldn’t tell one track from another. You don’t get an opportunity to view the track before the race, so you usually see the track while the race is running. The graphics are plain and lacking detail during the stable mode and betting mode as well. During the stable mode you don’t get to see a huge stable of horses, but just a top down view of your stable.

Sound 6.5

There really wasn’t much music in Final Stretch. You will occasionally hear a horse sound coming from the speakers while the game is idle. You do hear the sound of the horse on the track while a race is going on, but it isn’t very convincing. However the developers did include an option to play your mp3 files during the game. So you have can select a list of mp3s that you have on your hard drive and listen to them instead of the horses.

Difficulty Medium

You can select from three different difficulty selections, easy, normal or hard. But since the game doesn’t provide a user-friendly interface the hardest part of the game is figuring out what to do next. Winning a race seems to be impossible, or at least a true lesson in patience. Betting seems to work the same way. If you win a ton of bets in this game, you better buy yourself a lottery ticket right away.

Concept 5.0

The concept of Final Stretch is an often under appreciated aspect of the world’s culture. Horse racing has been around for over 100 years as a sport. Horse Breeding is a very profitable industry that business owners and entertainers have ventured into. Watching a horse race in person can be a very entertaining experience, but Final Stretch doesn’t capture this experience. It is a noble concept to offer the player the opportunity to run their own stable, race their own horse, or bet on races all over the world. But the game doesn’t satisfy this concept.

Multiplayer: 6.0

The game is designed to play with other players over the internet. The internet portion of the game is handled by Gamespy, which is a premier provider of online gaming. You and up to 20 people can participate in a race over the internet. You can also places virtual bets over the internet on the races as well.

Overall: 5.7

With the recent release of the Movie Sea Biscuit, it would have been a great opportunity to grab some new players with Final Stretch. The excitement of watching your horse win a race is a wonderful experience, but Final Stretch doesn’t deliver this experience. With a very helpful training system at the beginning of the game, Final Stretch could have been a different game. But the user interface can be unforgiving when trying to select a simple option. For a hardcore Horse-racing fan, Final Stretch might be enough to get by with. It does offer a deep simulation mode, and a wide variety of options (100 tracks, 4 different race types, and several thousand different horses). But the casual gamer will be left waiting in the barn trying to figure out what to do in the game.