It would seem that, in a niche market as incredibly specialized as horse racing simulations, there would be little room or want for competition. The genre is significantly more popular in Japan than in the US, which is apparent by the fact that Tecmo's Gallop Racer series has been the only one to hit US shores. Regardless, Koei has decided to give Tecmo a run for its money with G1 Jockey 3. Surprisingly, the game offers an experience that's different enough from the competition to warrant some attention, but is still quite similar in that only horse racing enthusiasts will get much out of it.
While Tecmo's Gallop Racer games try to cover all aspects of the horse racing experience, from breeding to betting, G1 Jockey 3 focuses solely on the jockey. You'll start the game off as a rookie jockey with no experience and only a single stable owner to race for. The ultimate goal during your first season is to garner the Winningest Rookie award, but in the short term you'll have to concern yourself with simply finding a ride, since a jockey is pretty useless without a horse. You can gain access to horses through a few different methods. In the beginning, you'll have to approach the stable that you already have an established relationship with and request a horse. You won't be able to just pick any horse you like from the stable, but rather, a small selection will be presented to you, and only after you correctly answer a multiple-choice question about the abilities of the horse you choose will you be allowed to race. After you've competed in a few races, you'll begin getting offers at the beginning of each "week" to ride specific horses in specific races, and once you start actually winning races, you'll establish relationships with other stables, broadening your selection of horses exponentially. The game touts a total of 4,000 different horses, each with its own statistics. The statistics for each horse are staggeringly extensive, and include basics like age, gender, the horse's speed on different types of turf, and the horse's preferred racing style, as well as subtler information like which foot a horse favors, or whether a horse can recover from a soft start. This information isn't just for window dressing, either--it will directly affect how the horse performs once you're on the track.
Once you have a scheduled race with a horse, you're given the option to take it for a workout, and your horse's performance in the actual race can be affected positively or negatively depending on how well you do during the workout. The racing itself is much more technical than visceral, and a strong understanding of your horse's abilities is essential to success on the track. While you're on the track, you'll have to manage your horse's speed, which can be affected directly using the triangle and X buttons, or to a subtler extent by adjusting the bit or using the whip. But if you run your horse too hard at the beginning of the race, its stamina will deplete too quickly and you'll run out of momentum before you reach the finish line. Certain horses will also require you to manage their footing while making turns, or else they may turn too wide and hurt your position in the pack. Even with the game's helpful tutorials, the racing portions of the game still feel pretty arcane and make for a steep learning curve. As such, don't be surprised if it takes you a half dozen or so races before you actually start winning.
As a game that seems tailor-made for horse racing fanatics and statistics freaks, G1 Jockey 3's overall presentation is pretty dry. When you're not on the track, you'll mostly be navigating lots of menu screens dense with information and static drawings representing the different jockeys, trainers, and stable owners you'll interact with. Though the basic model used for the horses is basically identical for each of the 4,000 horses in the game, it's still a clean-looking model, and the textures applied to it lend a certain level of realism, giving definition to muscles and a subtle sheen to the horses' coats. The animations of the horses, however, are limited, can look kind of jerky, and lack enough variation to create any sort of impression of uniqueness between the horses. This is most apparent when you're out on the track and the identical animation routines of the different horses are being executed in concert. The tracks look considerably more basic than the horses, though admittedly, you'll be focusing too much on tweaking your speed, managing your position on the track, and eyeing the competition to pay much attention to the track itself. The soundtrack for the game is largely comprised of a certain strain of basic MIDI-based easy listening music which, if nothing else, helps reinforce the game's rather low-key pace.
On the surface, G1 Jockey 3 doesn't appear to be that radically different from the Gallop Racer series, and in many respects, it isn't. But ultimately, G1 Jockey 3 delivers a more focused, more satisfying experience that seems less like an abstract interpretation of horse racing and more like the real thing. That said, the presentation is still pretty modest, and much of the game mechanics are too baroque for those without a real passion for horse racing.