The Kentucky Derby may be the most famous role race that took place in the world of horses this weekend, but it’s hardly the only one.
At Zed Run, a digital platform for horse racing, several such events take place every hour, seven days a week. Owners pay modest entry fees – usually between $ 2 and $ 15 – to run their horses against others for cash.
The horses in these online races are NFTs, or “non-fungible tokens”, meaning that they exist only as digital means. You cannot caress or feed them carrots by hand. You can’t sit in the stands and sip mint julips as they pass.
But unlike the vast majority of NFTs – which match GIFs, images and videos that can be stored as collectibles or sold for profit – every digital horse does what the creators of Zed Run call “NFT that breathes.”
“Breathing NFT is one that has its own unique DNA,” said Roman Tirone, head of partnership at Virtually Human, an Australian studio created by Zed Run. “It can reproduce, it has a bloodline, it has a life of its own. He races, has genes that he passes on and lives by the algorithm so no two horses are the same. “(Yes, owners can they breed their NFT horses in the “Zed Runa Stud Farm.”)
People – most crypto enthusiasts – are in a hurry to grab digital horses, which arrive on the Zed Runa website as a limited edition; some of them brought in larger sums than live horses. One player sold a stable full of digital racehorses for $ 252,000. Another received $ 125,000 for one racehorse. So far, more than 11,000 digital horses have been sold on the platform.
Alex Taub, the founder of a technology startup in Miami, bought 48. “You buy and sell most NFTs and make money that way,” Mr. Taub, 33, said. “With Zed, you can make money on your NFT by racing or breeding.”
His barn is still growing. He recently bred a digital horse for his five-year-old daughter. “He comes home from school and wants to race,” he said. “She named her horse Gemstone, and Gemstone had two babies named Rainbows and Sparkles.”
Each race has a limit of 12 horses, the composition of which is based on the qualities and past performance of each horse. The site uses an algorithm that runs 10,000 random outcomes and selects one as a race condition.
The races take place day and night and are broadcast on both Zed Run’s twitch channel and the company’s website. Zed Run also has a Discord server, where people can track race results, trade tips and share independent data analysis tools. Users stream their own races and repackaging clips for YouTube and Twitch live.
“There are people who themselves become mini-influencers in this ecosystem,” said Yair Altmark, a venture capitalist in New York who spent more than $ 300,000 on digital horses. “And horses that gain credibility on these streams and exposure to rift make their name.”
He expects to return most of his money. “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these horses are traded for a million dollars in a few months,” said Mr. Altmark, 23, “because those horses can return your stake insanely.” Admission to the payout race costs from a few dollars to about $ 50, and you can run a horse an unlimited number of times.
Zed Run was founded in 2018 by Chris Laurent, Rob Salha, Geoff Wellman and Chris Ebeling. They considered horse racing to be fertile ground for innovation. “It’s one of the oldest sports in the world and has remained unchanged since dawn,” Mr. Laurent said.
Owning and racing real horses can be too expensive. But there is a lower barrier to entering NFT horse racing, according to Drew Austin Greenfeld, 36, a New York investor. “There are cheap horses and premium horses,” he said.
Renee Russo, a 25-year-old New York entrepreneur, said racing her digital horse, Glacial Planes, is more suited to playing video games than gambling. “I own this horse, I don’t bet on another horse,” she said, “so I feel like I have complete control over where it goes, who it races with, and who I want to breed it with.”
As with all investments, there is reason to be wary here. If Zed Run turned out to be a fad, these digital horses could become worthless.
Fans of digital horse racing often talk about the “metaverse”, a common space where physical and virtual reality meet. “My opinion is that Zed Run will be the first digital metaverse sport,” Mr. Greenfeld said. “People will cheer for horses and stables and become fans. There are horses that are already celebrities in the ecosystem. It is global, has no language barriers and works 24/7. It takes the best of crypto, NFT, esports, streaming. ”
Anyway, as the NFT craze grows and as many people discover digital horse racing, Zed Run is spreading fast. The company has 30 employees worldwide and plans to continue hiring. Recently, celebrities and athletes have started investing in the space. Actor Jerry Ferrara, who played Turtle in the HBO series “Entourage,” bought a digital horse, as did Wilson Chandler, a professional basketball player.
Some users say Zed Run has also piqued their interest in real sports spectators. “I’d never watched a real horse race on YouTube before, but now I’ve watched five because of the idea of just getting to know how real horse races work,” Mr. Altmark said.
Mr. Taub, for his part, goes to digital races. He plans to buy more horses in the next fall of Zed Run to build his stable.
“This is going to be either the smartest or the dumbest thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “Either I’ll buy the house with the money I make from it or I’ll never show my face for a year.”