Review: The Racing Horse Game
Publisher: CHH Games
Year: timeless (and not listed)
Tagline: A fun day at the track. . .
Players: 2 or more

Generic cover with poor color contrast shows the game board, cards, chips and dice
OK, I accidentally took a picture of the back and did not realize it right away. The cover looks identical.

how we met

I found The Racing Horse Game at thrift post-pandemic, when I finally returned to thrifting (albeit less often). When I saw it on the shelf, I saw a generic-looking box that contained a wooden racing game, almost resembling the board of Can’t Stop. Cards and betting. AND dice? I could not resist its siren song.

how it plays

From what I can gather, The Racing Horse Game goes by many names and has existed for a long time as a family go-to game. This invariably means there are multiple ways to play it.

This is a betting game, so firstly, make sure each of your players has either poker chips, dollars, dimes, quarters, popcorn kernels, or whatever your poison of choice is for a betting game.

NOTE: we played four player and used an ancient 100 poker chip set I had, and it was not nearly enough. Not nearly!

You will need a deck of cards. Remove all Aces, Kings and Jokers before shuffling and dealing. The horses number 2 through 12, so Jack is 11 and Queen is 12. In our play, each player got four cards, including the dealer. The rules I have recommend dealing all cards, but this is not a good idea at a low player count like four. You will discover why soon.

The four cards you have represent the horses that you hope to win the race.

To begin, all horses start at the gate. Four horses must be scratched and removed from the race. The dealer rolls the dice and the horse matching the number rolled (between 2 and 12) is sent to the number 1 scratched spot. The dealer repeats rolling until 3 more horses are scratched in each of the 2, 3 and 4 spots. As this scratching takes place, players remove those cards from their hands.

The horses lined up at starting gate
This image shows all the horses lined up at the gate, and you can see the scratched horses will move back to the appropriate scratched space: 1, 2, 3 or 4. And yes, those are star stickers.

Once this is complete, the dealer starts the race by rolling once again. If they roll one of the non-scratched horses, they move that horse up one space and closer to victory. If they roll a scratched horse, they must pay into the pot either 1, 2, 3 or 4 depending upon which place the horse is in the scratched list.

Here is the start of play, with horses starting to get on the move

The next player then rolls the dice and repeats this, either paying into the pot or moving a horse forward. The numbers that are less likely to be rolled have fewer spaces to move, much like Can’t Stop. The first horse to reach the end of their track wins this race! And players with a card matching the winning horse win the pot! Players that did not have a winning card must pay into the pot for each card in their hand. THIS, my dear readers, is why dealing the entire deck would be harmful and expensive at low player counts.

If you are playing the version where you dealt four cards to each player, the players with winning cards will split the pot based on how many winning cards there are. If you dealt all the cards to the players then you will always split the pot into 4 parts and distribute to those with the winning cards. Alternatively if you have four cards you could still split the pot into four and let any parts not claimed ride into the next race.

Play continues until you get rich and leave, you get poor and leave, you fall over, you need to do some sort of chore, or some other part of life decides to call you away. Maybe the turkey is done.

how it went

We played for hours. That’s not to say this game is amazing. Let’s get into it.

The Racing Horse Game is very simple to learn, so we were all on board almost instantly. If you are starting out with a bunch of people, maybe do one single practice race where bets go directly in front of people (to easily reclaim) in order to teach the game.

A random hand with two 3's, a queen and a 4
This is a sample hand I dealt for this review. Hands do get this bad sometimes, but not that often. If we start play and someone scratches a 3, 12 or 4 I will lose those cards. I’m rooting for whatever is left after scratching, even if it is a long shot.

In true Idle Remorse fashion, both John and I ran out of chips… not instantly, but very, very quickly. And this is not our fault, really. You don’t have agency over when to bet. The game plays itself, and you are just there to see how much you win. And that’s not the hallmark of a great game, but it can still be a lot of fun.

Don’t ask me why, but I had $80 in $1s in my purse. So when John and I ran out of chips, I roughly split up the $80 into two and gave us a path forward. And there was definitely an element of excitement to having real money on the table. Especially because we both continued to do terribly.

For a large portion of our early play, Keri was winning everything. She had most of the poker chips and a lot of the $1 bills at some point. But, like I said, we played for hours.

A mess of poker chips and a big wad of $1 bills
This is Kerri’s booty in one of her high points

At some point, I think each of us was broke (some of us multiple times). We are a really chill game group so we just let those people continue play without paying in. We had gigantic swings. This game is very luck-centric.

There are times when you are so lucky that every single one of your horses gets scratched, so you know you can’t win and are just paying into the pot and rolling dice.

There are times when no one wins because no one has those cards. In these few cases we just let the pot ride into the next race.

There are plenty of times where the most commonly rolled horse, like the 7, is scratched at number 4 and you have to pay 4 chips or dollars or whatever each time you roll the most likely roll.

There are times when you have one chip left and you just manage to squeak by anyway, without losing it. Kind of like bungee jumping where it looks like you may hit the bottom but then you fly so high. But eventually you settle near the bottom again.

Another shot of one of our races where horse 7 is (somewhat predictably) about to win! Or will it be 9?!

After a great deal of play, we all discussed how this is probably not the best game ever, but we could see how it would be a traditional game that families might play around the holidays or during get-togethers. I grew up playing Tripoley at holidays with pennies, and it was so much fun. We all got why this game has staying power. The Racing Horse Game allows you to enjoy each other’s company without so directly focusing on each other, instead focusing your attention on a common thing.

I would really like to try playing this sometime with a lot of people. I’m not sure exactly how the gameplay would differ. I feel like it would be cheaper because you would simply roll fewer times in a race. And I bet when you win, you would win big, especially with more losers paying in based on their cards left.

So it’s worth saying that we played with four players, and I don’t think this game is meant to be played with so few players.

play or pass

I’m going to say The Racing Horse Game falls just this side of play. If it’s not your cup of tea, you can just limit your time playing. It’s true that this game could play itself without you, but that’s hardly the point. If you enjoy rolling dice, betting on horses, having some of your outcome be out of your control so you are a mere observer, then The Racing Horse Game is perfect for you. It’s a great way for a large group of people to pass the time and enjoy each other during gatherings.

As mentioned early on, The Racing Horse Game has many names. If you want to check it out and have trouble finding it, try Etsy too. Just google horse racing game. Most versions are made of wood. Some have the same Finish line but just change the number of spaces for each number (which is a nicer look imo).