In this article we are going to take a deep dive into horse racing in California.
We'll make sure you are up to speed when it comes to what California Sportsbooks have to offer and what's best for your individual needs, as well as guiding you through form analysis, how odds work and what types of wagers are available to you.
By the time you hit the bottom of this page, you'll be a horse racing expert ready to back your first winner!
Best California Horse Racing Apps
Best Overall Horse Racing App: TwinSpires Racing
The TwinSpires Racing app is the go-to app for racing fans in California and you've backed a winner the moment you sign up with a TwinSpires account because new users get $200 in bonus money.
TwinSpires is the app that takes you to the heart of the action even when you are not on track because the live video section not only enables you to watch your selections run, but users can also watch every race replay from that day via the results section.
Racing fans in California love TwinSpires because it allows you to bet into the pari-mutuel pools that had previously been reserved for on-track bettors. Bettors can even put action down on multiple races, similar to a parlay in sports betting. You can even wager on the winning horse for consecutive races. TwinSpires includes a Pick Three, Pick Four, Pick Six and even a Pick All for certain tracks featuring eight or 10 races.
Best App For Horse Racing Betting Odds: Caesars Racebook
California sports betting apps and sites offer their own racing odds, which means they differ from book to book.
However, no app offers better odds than Caesars Racebook, and you'll even earn rewards with every wager you place.
Caesars California provides racing fans with access to over 300 racetracks, including high stakes international races from Hong Kong, France, UK, Ireland, Australia, and many others. Oh, and you'll be able to watch live racing action in full HD via the live stream service.
Best Horse Racing Betting App Experience: FanDuel Racing
FanDuel Racing is renowned for its smooth and user-friendly mobile app.
The FanDuel Racing app is geared towards the mobile player, with easy access to racetracks and markets from the home screen. At the top of the platform, FanDuel provides super-useful tutorials as well as their racing and California sports betting promotions.
Not only is it easy to navigate, it's also super reliable. It has all the functionality of the desktop site so not only can you wager on the racing, you can also watch live racing, replay races and access all your account information at the ease of mobility.
Best For New Horse Racing Bettors: DraftKings Horse Racing
DraftKings California is the go-to sportsbook for many horse racing fans in California and with good reason.
DraftKings has its own dedicated horse racing app, called DK Horse, and it's available in California. DK Horse is a stand alone app that enables horse racing fans to access pari-mutuel wagering on from all the top California race tracks. This sophisticated racing product also provides customers with the ability to handicap races, wager, and stream video of live racing, all within their DK Horse account.
Being able to bet into pari-mutuel pools gives customers the ability to bet into win, place, show, exacta, trifecta, and superfecta pools.
Other Horse Betting Apps & Sites
In all, there are currently 7 licensed online horse racing betting sites in California, all of which come under the jurisdiction of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), so horse racing fans have a great selection of operators.
We've touched on some of the main betting sites for California race tracks but others deserve a special mention, not least TVG, which is a FanDuel California product. TVG is unique in that it provides the facility to set alerts for your favourite races as well as top picks from their presenters.
AmWager is another notable app that facilitates pari-mutuel pool betting for California race fans while WatchandWager is another popular betting app that is building a reputation for reliability and great customer service.
Understanding California Horse Racing Wagers
Understanding California horse racing wagers can be a little daunting for a novice.
Not only are there a whole host of different markets and lines, there are different ways that odds can be expressed. Let's take a more detailed look at a few of them:
- Fractional odds: Fractional odds are more popular in Europe than in America, but they are fairly straightforward to understand. For example, fractional odds of 2/1 are the equivalent of +200 or 3.0; the number on the left hand side is the amount you would win if you staked the amount on the right hand side. A 6/4 fractional bet would return $10 in total, if you stake $4.
- Decimal odds: The most effective way for any rookie bettor to understand odds is to use decimal odds. Decimal odds include stake, so $10 on a 13.0 decimal winner would return $130.
- Moneyline odds: Moneyline odds are the odds of a team or player winning a game, irrespective of how far. Unless they are very evenly matched, there will always be a favorite (lowest odds) and an underdog (highest odds).
Pari-Mutuel Wagering System
Pari-mutuel betting is very different from fixed odds betting and has advantages and disadvantages. Pari-mutuel betting is pool betting, which means the odds you get are not fixed until the pool closes, unlike betting via fixed odds.
Payouts are calculated by dividing the total amount staked for the pool by the total amount staked for each horse, although not before the house take - often referred to as vigorish or juice, is deducted.
This type of betting can yield much bigger returns, especially on outsiders, and the unpredictability of pool betting appeals to the more adventurous bettor. The juice is also much smaller than betting fixed odds via your California sportsbook.
Horse Racing Odds and Probability
Understanding the relationship between odds and probability will give any bettor a much clearer perspective on the odds and lines being offered by sportsbooks in California. Sportsbook odds are, in effect, a representation of probability, although it is only an implied probability because things like house edge and weight of money need to be factored into these odds.
The simplest way of converting odds into implied probability is to work from decimal odds and divide into 100. So, if the decimal odds are 3.0 (traditional odds of +200), the sportsbook is effectively telling you that event would occur approximately 33.33% of the time.
Any bettor wanting to make long-term profits would ideally be able to assess odds as probability and act on the prices accordingly, i.e. bet or don't bet if you think the odds offer value.
Types of Horse Racing Bets
Pari-mutuel wagering in California offers a whole range of bet types that cater for the whole spectrum of horse racing fans. Whether it be just betting the odds-on favourite or the much more speculative wager that combines up to six horses in a single race, in an attempt to scoop that huge prize, pari-mutuel betting has it covered.
Here are some common California horse racing bets:
Single Horse Wagers
- Win: The most popular of all racing wagers - you are simply betting the horse you think will win the race.
- Place: Place bets need to finish either first or second, anything worse is a losing bet.
- Show: Your selection needs to finish in the first three to earn a payout.
Those are the most popular wagers and are ideal for rookie bettors looking to ease themselves into horse racing betting in California steadily. However, there are many more complex wagers, many of which have the potential to yield huge rewards.
Let's take a look at them:
- Exacta: An Exacta consists of picking two runners to place first and second in the correct order. You can select as many runners as you want and make it a boxed Exacta, or also pick a standout for first or second position.
- Quinella: Quinella bets require you to select the first and second-place finishers without specifying their order. So you select two horses and if they finish first and second, in either order, you have backed a winner!
- Trifecta: It's getting more difficult now - a Trifecta requires you to select three horses that must finish first, second and third in the correct order. Trifecta's can often pay big returns, especially when outsiders hit the frame.
- Superfecta: One of the toughest bets in racing to get right but equally one of the most rewarding. To bet a winning Superfecta you must pick the first four finishers home, in the correct order. That takes some doing.
- Daily Double: The daily double is a popular bet that involves picking the winners of two consecutive races. You simply select the numbers of the horses in each race, eg 4-8, which means number 4 must win the first race and number 8 must win the second.
- Pick 3: This is an extension to the daily double in that you need to correctly select the winners of three consecutive races.
- Pick 4: As above, but you are up to four races now.
- Pick 5: Pick the winner of five consecutive races!
- Pick 6: You've provably worked this one out by now...yes, you need to pick six consecutive winners, which might just win you a new house!
Developing a Winning Horse Racing Betting Strategy
It's crucial to have a holistic understanding of the sport of horse racing, rather than focusing on just a few different facets.
Understanding how all these factors fit together and affect the ultimate outcome is a skill that often takes years to learn but, if you want to increase your chances of winning on Californian horse races, then it is imperative that you focus on the following areas of expertise early on:
- Handicapping: Handicapping from a bettors perspective is devising your own system of evaluating whether a horse is well served by the grade of race it its running in and the weight it is carrying in that race.
- Bankroll management: Bankroll management is a hugely important factor in any betting strategy because any bettor will need to come up with a staking plan that both maximises the amount they win but preserves the bankroll through losing spells.
- Comparing odds: Odds comparison is crucial for anyone that bets to make a long-term profit. Getting the best price on each of your wagers could ultimately prove the difference between making a profit at the end of the year or a loss. Having multiple sportsbook accounts is imperative.
Finding a Winning Horse
There are so many ways to find a winning horse while betting on California horse racing and there are nuances to each and every avenue bettors use.
In this section, we are going to look at some of the most popular tools bettors use to find winners in California, and why they can be profitable.
- Form: Form is ultimately the most popular way of assessing a horse's chance in any given race. However, there are many nuances to bare form that need to be taken into consideration because bare form figures can be misleading. A fourth-placed position in a Grade 2 contest is ultimately work a great deal more than a fourth-placed finish in a claiming company.
- Race Quality: Race quality can vary greatly even within a particular grade. Some races can have great strength in depth while others, of the same value, can be quite weak for the grade. Understanding the strength of a piece of form is a crucial factor in assessing a horse's prospects going forward.
- Distance: Most horses have an optimum distance, although many can stretch out a bit further under the right circumstances. The form book will generally highlight what a horse's optimum trip is but it's always worth looking out for unexposed horses that are stepping up to a trip more in keeping with their pedigree.
- Surface: Few horses are equally effective across all surfaces so it's important to know the optimum surface for your horse. It's often in the breeding, especially with Dirt pedigrees. Dirt-bred horse generally aren't as effective on faster artificial surfaces like Polytrack, and they generally won't be able to achieve their Dirt ratings on Turf.
- Trainer: Everyone has their favourite trainer and it isn't always one of the big guns. Ideally, you want to be looking for trainers that show long term profits rather than those that are more streaky in their form. Once you have found out what type of horse a trainer does well with, stick with those runners.
- Jockey: Some jockeys ride particular tracks better than their counterparts, like Juan J. Hernandez at Santa Anita. Following top track jockeys can be hugely profitable.
- Draw: This is a tricky one because gate position is often looked at through the prism of the horse's normal run style. If a front-runner is drawn wide, then it might requite a lot more effort to get to the front than it would were that horse drawn lower. Conversely, a low draw isn't necessarily an advantage for a horse who normally likes to come from off the pace.
- Weight: Weight is often more about context than the actual weight being carried. You should be asking yourself 'how much much weight is my horse giving/receiving from his nearest rivals compared to official ratings?' If you are giving 10lb to a horse rated 5lb superior, then you are probably not going to win. If you are getting weight off a horse rated inferior, then you are in business.
Types of Horse Breeds To Bet On
Breeding is an important part of horse racing because horses are often bred to excel under quite specific circumstances.
A Dirt-bred horse is exactly that, bred to race on Dirt, which means he or se is unlikely to be as effective on Turf or other artificial surfaces like Polytrack.
An example of a Dirt-bred horse would be anything horse sired by Curlin, who is also now regarded as a sire whose stock are imbued with the stamina to race over further than a mile. With that in mind, you wouldn't want to be backing a horse sired by Curlin in a sprint race at California race tracks.
Thoroughbred Horse Racing
Thoroughbred racing is for thoroughbred horses, all of which have ancestry that can be traced back to three foundation sires - the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerly Turk. Thoroughbred racing comes in two forms, Flat or Jumps, although Jump racing is much more popular in the Britain and Ireland than it is in jurisdictions like North America and Australia.
It is documented that a one-mile oval was constructed at Pleasanton in 1858 which would predate Saratoga Race Course by five years, making it the oldest track in the United States.
Pari-mutuel wagering in California was legalized in 1933.
Quarter horses are bred for speed because they will generally race over short distances. They are called quarter horses because they would originally race over a quarter of a mile, although there are now 11 officially sanctioned race distances from 220 to 870 yards (201 to 796 m).
Rules and procedures are basically the same as those for Thoroughbred horse races and there is even a Triple Crown of quarter-horse racing that includes the Kansas Futurity (June), the Rainbow Futurity (July) and the All-American Futurity (September).
Standardbred are horses that compete in harness racing. They are renowned for being solid, well-built horses with a longer body than their Thoroughbred counterparts.
Standardbreds tend to either trot or pace while racing, which differ only in the way the horse moves its legs. Pacers are generally faster than trotters.
California Horse Races
Some of the most prestigious Grade 1 horse races in the United States take place at California race tracks. Although none of the Triple Crown races take place in the state, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby (see below) gets an automatic berth in the Kentucky Derby.
Let's take a look at some of the biggest races in California:
Santa Anita Handicap
The Santa Anita Handicap used to be considered the most important older-horse contest in North America. It is a ten-furlong Grade 1 contest for four-year-olds and upwards, with a purse of $500,000 in 2022. In 1935, the Santa Anita Handicap was an instant hit as one of the nation's top races because of it's minimum purse of $100,000, which would have been a huge amount of money for a horse race at the time.
The race became synonymous with the career of the legendary Seabiscuit who lost out in photo finishes in 1937 and 1938. In the latter race he lost out to a horse carrying 30lb less than he was. Having missed the 1939 race through injury, he returned to win 'The Hundred Grander' in 1940 by a length and a half in what was to be the final race of his stunning career.
TVG Pacific Classic
The TVG Pacific Classic is a $1 million race at Del Mar Racetrack for three-year-olds and older. It's a ten-furlong Grade 1 race in August that provides the winner with automatic entry into that year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
Inaugurated in 1991, the TVG Pacific Classic is the premier race of the season at Del Mar and has been won by some of the game's great Dirt horses, not least 2016 winner California Chrome. In 2022, the mighty Flightline won the TVG Pacific Classic by a remarkable 19.25 lengths, which is a record margin of victory that will take some surpassing!
Santa Anita Derby
The Santa Anita Derby is a Grade 1 for three-year-olds at Santa Anita Park in April, with a purse of $750,000. The one-mile, one-furlong contest is an official stepping stone in the Road to the Kentucky Derby, offering 100pts to the winner, the assuring them a position in first Triple Crown race of the year.
Ten horses have completed that famous double but Affirmed (1978) remains the only horse to win the Santa Anita Derby and all three Triple Crown races.
California Horse Racetracks
Some of America's most famous racetracks are here in California and they stage some of the biggest races. However, after the closure of Hollywood Park in 2014, the state is about to take another biog hit as Golden Gate Fields will stage its last meeting at the end of 2023.
When it comes to thoroughbred racing in California - Santa Anita Park and Del Mar fly the flag.
Let's take a look at the top California racetracks.
Horse Racing Betting Sites
Online betting on horse racing has revolutionised the way people bet on horse racing in the 21st century and the key word nowadays is convenience. California racing fans don't need to be on track to bet into the pari-mutuel pools any more and you can watch all the action live from your mile device or laptop, as well as replays.
You can now bet on horse racing no matter where you are in California. So, what factors do you need to consider when selecting which platform to use?
- Reputation: Reputation is king in this industry because word soon gets around if the service isn't up to scratch or is better elsewhere.
- Ease of use: Being able to navigate your way around a betting app is crucial, especially on a busy sporting day, so ease of use is a major factor for many sports betting fans.
- Promotions: Promotions are big nowadays, so big that sign-up promos often run into four figures! However, it's not only the new customer promos you need to look at, what about the rewards and loyalty bonuses for existing customers? Some betting apps fare much better in this regard than others.
Our Final Conclusion on California Horse Racing
The advent of online sports betting in California has boosted interest in horse racing in the state because many racing fans can now watch the action if they have just a $1 wager on the race. California is home to some of the biggest tracks in North America and races that have played host to some of the biggest stars in the sport. Racing is as popular here as it is anywhere in North America.
Hopefully we've given you some clear insight into what horse racing apps in California offer and how that feeds into your betting requirements. You should have a much clearer idea of what types of bets you can place, how the odds work and all the various factors that you need to consider when assessing a horse race.
All you have to do now is get out there and find some winners!
California Horse Racing FAQs
Placing bets on horse racing is easy. Horse racing fans that like to be on the track have the option of betting via the on-track PMU betting windows or terminals, or using their mobile sportsbook. For off-track bettors, horse racing is a key feature of all online sportsbooks so betting on racing couldn't be any more convenient.
This depends on the type of odds you are using, but 4.0 decimal returns 4 times your stake, and 7.5 would return 7.5 times your stake. If you are betting via traditional odds, a +500 bet would win you $500 to a $100 stake, plus you get your stake returned.
Win, place and show are still generally regarded as the most popular horse racing bets in California but the more exotic wagers are very appealing to those that would rather try and win big from smaller stakes.
Handicapping is the assessment of each horse and whether it is well suited by the race conditions and weight it carries, or not. Being able to identify horses that are well handicapped is a key factor in finding winners on a regular basis.
There so many options when it comes to online sportsbooks in California and they tend to cater for different betting needs. If it's the best odds you want, then Caesars Racebook is the one for you, but if it's an easy to use app then you might want to look at FanDuel. Many horse racing bettors in California now require live video feeds so that's an important element to factor in when assessing the various options.
Be smart and take into account as much information as possible because the smallest details can make an enormous difference, especially in the long term. For example, run style might not seem an important factor to a novice, but a race that contains multiple front-runners is likely to compromise those horse's chances, and increase the chances of a hold-up horse getting the race run to suit.
They all represent the same thing, just in slightly different ways. For example, a horse priced at 2/1 in fractional odds would be 3.0 in decimal form and +200 in tradition US form.
The uniformity of American racetracks - i.e. all left handed and oval shaped, lends itself well to speed figures. Applying speed figures in races where all of the runners are fully exposed is a great betting strategy but be careful of unexposed runners that are doing something for the first time, like stepping up in distance, which could prove the catalyst to an improved speed figure rating.
Gavin Beech has worked in the betting industry for almost 20 years and is a hugely experienced horse racing journalist, sports betting content writer and tipster. He has worked for some of the biggest online operators around, notably MailOnline and the Racing Post, where he is a regular on the Live Tipster slot.