People are now dropping $20,000 on digital collectible racehorses

For the average person, owning a thoroughbred racehorse — let alone one that could win the Kentucky Derby — is well beyond the realm of possibility. Even the breeding fee, or so-called "stud fee," to spawn championship-winning stallions can set prospective owners back $300,000 if they don't want to fork over millions to buy a proven winner.

It's a high price to pay for the promise of acquiring race-winning genes and a lineage of proven dominance on the race track. But what if you could pay orders of magnitude less for the same experience? (Albeit, in an entirely virtual reality.)

Enter Zed Run, the latest digital collectible company leveraging blockchain technology to create a platform where people can buy, trade, breed and race digital collectible racehorses.

Startup Zed Run lets people own, trade, and race digitally collectible racehorses.
Startup Zed Run lets people own, trade, and race digitally collectible racehorses using blockchain technology.

"These horses have their own unique DNA, the parity and randomness of DNA in horse racing is simulated onto the platform," explained Roman Tirone, head of partnerships for Zed Run's parent company Virtually Human. "You have people collecting data, seeing how their horse performs in certain races, seeing how it matches up against some of the best horses in competition and evaluating their horses based on how they perform."

As ephemeral as it all sounds, the possibility of minting a winning virtual horse is starting to attract some very real money.

As Sportico's Jacob Feldman reported last week, Australia-based Zed Run is seeing activity explode. In its debut year after launching in 2019, the company saw 4,450 digital horses sold at an average price of around $30 each. Now, top-performing horses are regularly fetching more than $10,000. One, Tirone said, even sold for $125,000.

Owners of the winning virtual horses stand to profit from purses of varying size, from as little as a few dollars to several hundred. For the time being, Tirone said the platform is seeing mostly the same demographic that has proven to be early adopters of crypto and the non-fungible token space: younger males.

"As this moves forward, our demo grows from that 18- to 34-year-old, male, international audience ... to a little bit more of a broader reach," he said.

There is still more to be worked out about Zed Run for some real life logistics, including the life span of virtual horses or whether or not the game should introduce certain jockey controls that are included in other horse racing games. Partnerships around race betting or even streaming their Tron-like horse races seem like obvious opportunities. Tirone said the company has even more ambitious goals, including the goal to eventually see one of their horses set a record for most expensive racehorse ever sold — real, or virtual.

"We have high ambitions," he said. "We see a Zed horse setting the record for the most expensive horse ever sold."

To get there, they might have a ways to go. In 2000, Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus set the record for most expensive horse ever sold for a reported sum of more than $60 million.

Zack Guzman is an anchor for Yahoo Finance Live as well as a senior writer covering entrepreneurship, crypto, cannabis, startups, and breaking news at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @zGuz.

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