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California Horse Racing

California is one of the primary focal points of American horse racing, offering some of the most exciting races and beautiful tracks in the country. The state also has one of the longest and richest histories surrounding the sport out of any state.

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Introduction to Online Horse Racing in California

Betting on California horse racing events couldn't be easier. You no longer have to plan an entire day at the track for either live-racing or simulcast wagering. As long as you have access to the internet, you can bet online on any California horse race. Not to mention, you can bet on many other tracks around the country.

Here is what you need to do to begin betting CA horse racing online:

  1. Develop a Strategy: Before ever getting started betting online on California horse racing, you should develop some sort of strategy. The worst thing you can do is throw money on random horses, especially since many resources will give you a good idea about a runner’s prospects. Various simple strategies involve studying a horse’s past performances. Whereas complex ones rely on mathematical equations. As for money management, you also want to have a solid bankroll strategy to ensure you have a better chance at long term winnings.
  2. Pick a Racebook and Deposit: After you have some type of strategy, you want to search for the best online sportsbook that fits your needs. Depending on the online sportsbook, you can find terrific sign-up bonuses and other offers. After deciding on an online sportsbook for CA horse race betting, you will have to deposit funds with one of the accepted methods.
  3. Wager: Now you are ready to wager on CA horse racing. You will first have to choose a track and race from the sportsbook’s options, followed by a wager type and which runners you want to bet on. This is where you will see each horse’s odds, connections, and post positions.

Facts about California Horse Racing

Type of Betting Allowed:On-site, off-track, online betting, out-of-state betting.
Notable Horse Tracks:Cal Expo, Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields, Los Alamitos, Santa Anita
Gambling Age:18 for pari-mutuel betting.
Authority:California Horse Racing Board

How to Read a Horse Racing Program

One of the most fundamental aspects of CA horse racing is learning how to read a racing program. As mentioned previously, the first step to wagering on online horse racing is to develop a strategy. That is highly dependent on efficiently being able to read a race program.

A horse program contains information about the race and the horse’s set to run in it, and it provides the best data for making a solid pick. Upon opening a racing program, you will encounter information such as the race number, type of race, and purse amount.

As you continue to look over the program, you will also see each horse listed according to its post position. The program lists the position directly to the left of the horse’s name. This area of the program also includes the trainer’s name, the jockey, the morning-line odds, and other valuable information about the horse.

There is one specific section of a race program that all California horse racing bettors will consider the most valuable: a horse’s past performances. You can find this information listed on the program as rows of information containing the runner’s record from the current year.

This section of the program can be confusing for beginners, as it includes information in the forms of fractions and decimals. These are simply the fractional times of a race and how long it took to finish. For example, the time at the quarter-mile, half-mile, stretch, and finish marks.

With just a little bit of studying, anyone can pick up a horse program and start analyzing it right away.

Straight Horse Racing Bets

After you have developed a strategy, found an online racebook to suit your needs, choosing a track and race, and read the race program, you can finally decide on the type of bet you want to place for CA horse racing.

There are two main types of bets that are commonly used in CA horse racing online betting: straight and exotic bets. Most beginners will stick to straight bets, as they are the most straight-forward and easy to understand.

Straight horse race bets include:

  • Win Bet: The most simple of all racing bets, the Win bet requires the correct selection of the winning horse. Unless the odds are highly favorable to the bettor, or you can put a lot of money on it, this bet often results in small winnings.
  • Place Bet: Slightly easier to hit than the Win bet, you need your horse to either win the race or finish second to collect.
  • Show Bet: The easiest of the three bets requiring your horse to finish on the board. You collect from the Show bet if your horse finishes within the top three spots.
  • W/P/S: Often listed as W/P/S on online sportsbooks or called an “across the board” bet, it combines the previous three. Your horse can finish in any of the top three positions, but the amount you win depends on the exact position. For example, if your horse wins, you collect the payouts for all three spots. But, if your horse finishes second, you only collect the Place and Show payouts. If your horse finishes third, it can be hard to make a decent profit as you only collect the Show payout despite paying a higher amount.

Exotic Horse Racing Bets

Once you decide to move into slightly more complex betting habits, you can choose to place exotic horse racing bets on CA online horse racing. These carry the potential of paying out much larger numbers than what you encounter with straight wagers, but they also cost more to place. It is not uncommon to see some of the payouts be in the hundreds or thousands.

Let’s first look at the three most common exotic bets that you will encounter:

  • Exacta: The Exacta bet is often the most cost-efficient of the three. You collect by correctly choosing the first- and second-place finishers in the exact order.
  • Trifecta: The Trifecta is one of the most popular wagers among CA online horse race bettors for a good reason. It is more risky, exciting, and the payouts are often sizable. The Trifecta requires you to select the first-, second-, and third-place finishers in their exact order, and it is more expensive than the Exacta.
  • Superfecta: Riskier and less common than the other two, you must choose the first four finishers in the exact order to hit the Superfecta. Because it is so hard to hit, the Superfecta can offer massive payouts if the favorite finishes in the lower spots.

There are two more exotic bets that you will encounter when you bet on CA horse racing online. They have a different structure than the previous three:

  • Daily Double: This bet takes place over the course of two races. You have to choose one winning horse for a race, followed by the winning horse of the consecutive race.
  • Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5, Pick 6: These are similar to the Daily Double. In this case, you are choosing the winning horse for up to six consecutive races rather than two.

California Horse Racing

Pari-mutuel betting was legalized in California in 1933. The betting system revolves around all bets placed into a pool, and the track receives money for running the races.

Before the legalization of pari-mutuel betting, there were various tracks already existing in California. However, the legislation made wagering legal at the tracks.

San Joaquin Fair became the first track to take legal wagers in 1933. Tracks that followed include Bay Meadows, Santa Anita, Pomona Fair, and Tanforan the same year, the state of California has since committed to the sport.

Most of the gambling at California horse racing tracks is for Thoroughbred racing. Harness racing also runs at various tracks, but it has never reached the same level of popularity in the state.

Despite the state allowing horse racing for decades, there could be some changes in the near future. As of right now, the sport is still safe in the state, but various regulations and an outright ban on CA horse racing have been sought by many. Most of this comes from the 2019 racing season, which saw 22 horse deaths within 2.5 months at Santa Anita track.

These events have led to the industry facing a crisis in the state, with a proposed ballot referendum to outlaw the sport. However, that type of action is still far from being likely. With independent tracks working hard together to improve industry safety, new reforms are being put in place to protect the horses.

California operates under the strictest regulations of any U.S. state. The industry is controlled by the California Horse Racing Board.

Online vs. On-track Betting

Most people never even show up to an actual racing track. This is with all the online sportsbooks on the market and the ease of being able to bet through the internet. Much of the wagering happens through these online sportsbooks. With that said, California does see a stronger on-track betting presence given the state’s conditions.

The CA horse racing tracks are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. Plus, with the state’s favorable weather for racing conditions, many do choose to spend a day at the tracks. If that is the case, you can start wagering in-person on either machine or through a betting booth.

However, online betting offers many advantages to both beginners and experts. It is undoubtedly more convenient, offering you the ability to watch and wager from anywhere. But besides that, the actual process is much more efficient. You can spend more time preparing, observing different CA horse races on the day, and developing a personalized strategy.

On-track betting rarely, if ever, offers you the ability to receive bonuses in any form. A track might offer some type of rewards program, but a beginner will undoubtedly be better off wagering online.

Where to Watch the Horse Races

The most exciting part of CA horse racing is actually watching the races, so it is important to have a clear view of the running.

There are three main ways to watch the horse races:

  • At the Track: The classic way that does give an on-track betting advantage over online betting. CA horse racing tracks are incredible venues, and the excitement of watching a race in person can’t be matched. However, if you don’t have a good seat, it is not always easy to see what is happening.
  • On TV: Watching CA horse racing on TV is not always possible. Some dedicated channels cover the top races, but the major broadcasting networks only focus on world-class events like the Kentucky Derby.
  • Through an Online Sportsbook: This is the most efficient way, and it offers many more options. The top online sportsbooks offer live streams of the top CA horse racing tracks, so you can choose any race and have a clear view of the runners.

Horse Betting Terms Explained

You are going to come across a lot of horse racing jargon when reading a race program or betting on CA horse racing, but don’t let it be discouraging. Just like all sports, horse racing takes a little bit of time to understand. Once you learn the most common horse betting terms, you will be able to wager right away. You can learn more on how to bet on horses in our dedicated guide.

Types of Horses

Let’s first look at terms regarding the horse:

  • Colt: A male horse that is uncastrated and four-years-old or younger is referred to as a colt.
  • Filly: A female horse that is four-years-old or younger is referred to as a filly.
  • Mare: Refers to a female horse that is older than four-years-old.
  • Maiden: A horse, male or female, that has never won a single race is called a maiden.
  • Gelding: A castrated horse is called a gelding.

Horse Race Types

Here are some common terms regarding the most common CA horse race types:

  • Allowance: This type of race has special conditions for the runners. It aims at those who do not yet have the skills to compete in higher-stake races.
  • Claiming: In this type of race, each one of the horses is offered for sale at a “claiming price” prior to the running.
  • Optional Claiming: This type of race allows a horse to be offered for sale if it does not meet the set conditions.
  • Maiden: This type of race is only open to maiden runners or horses that have ever won.
  • Graded Stakes: These are your most popular races like the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Preakness Stakes. They are the top-level races that can be Grade 1, Grade 2, or Grade 3. They often witness the greatest runners in the sport.

Horse Race Tracks

Here are some terms regarding common race tracks in CA horse racing:

  • Turf: This type of race track, which is made of grass, is the most common one you will encounter.
  • Dirt: The second most common type of racetrack, it takes a harder toll on the runner’s body.
  • All-weather: Developed in part to withstand harsh weather conditions, this is a synthetic race track.
  • Furlong: You will often see furlong as a measure of distance in CA horse racing. It is the equivalent of 1/8 of a mile.

Horse Racing Tracks in California

There are many great CA horse racing tracks, with the state consistently hosting the best names in the sport. Some of the tracks in California are considered the most beautiful in the country.

Here are some of the top CA horse racing tracks:

  1. Santa Anita Park: Considered by many as the top track in the state, Santa Anita hosts some of the most prominent horse race events in the country. Racing occurs during early fall, winter, and spring. Some of the track’s top events include the Santa Anita Derby and the Santa Anita Handicap, and it often hosts the Breeders’ Cup series.
  2. Del Mar Racetrack: Located in Del Mar, California, it is considered one of the most beautiful tracks in the world. Del Mar’s live racing runs from July through early September, and a second live meet in November started in 2014. Some of the top races hosted by the track include the Pacific Classic, Eddie Read Stakes, Del Mar Oaks, and Bing Crosby Stakes.
  3. Golden Gate Fields: This Thoroughbred racing track is located in Berkeley, California. It is the only major Thoroughbred racetrack in Northern California, operated by The Stronach Group. The track usually hosts live racing from late December to mid-June and from mid-October to mid-December.

California FAQs

Who regulates horse racing in California?
The horse racing industry in California is regulated by the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
Is horse race betting legal in California?
Horse racing betting is legal in California, with the state being one of the focal points of the entire Thoroughbred racing industry in the United States. However, recent controversies and events throughout the last few years have threatened the industry in the state. Steps are being taken to improve racing, with new rules and regulations constantly being proposed.
What are the top horse races in California?
California offers some of the most prominent horse races in the year, with many of the sports great runners traveling to the state. Some of the top races in CA horse racing include the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar and the Santa Anita Derby at Santa Anita Park.
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