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The number of applications for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is growing all of the time, and one of the most recent innovations to catch on is virtual horse racing in the metaverse.

The rise of the internet gave birth to the idea of online gambling, where people can place their bets on real-life sporting events, including horse races, from anywhere, without needing to stop by their local bookie or actually go to the races. Now, with the metaverse becoming a reality, it has become possible to do a lot more than just place your bets from any location. Players can actively participate in highly realistic simulations of the horse racing world, setting up their own stables, buying, breeding and training race horses, and then sending them off to the races to earn real-life rewards in the shape of cryptocurrencies.

Horse racing is a rapidly emerging use case for the metaverse and it’s one that has huge potential. It’s an ancient sport that’s popular all over the world and typically attracts thousands of spectators, many of whom are prepared to stake thousands of dollars on the outcome of the races.

In 2019 the global horse racing market was valued at more than $278 billion, according to Zion Market Research. What’s more, it’s a market that’s expected to keep on growing, with one recent forecast cited by the metaverse horse racing game DeRace showing that the industry will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9% from 2020 to 2024.

So can metaverse-based virtual horse racing carve out a slice of that pie? There’s reason to think it can do so by utilizing concepts around “GameFi” and play-to-earn gaming mechanisms that have already proven to be hugely popular with traditional video games.

One of the hottest virtual horse racing projects to date is Derby Stars, a metaverse game that’s built on Polygon, the Ethereum scaling network. With it, players can acquire NFT-based horses, train them, breed them, level them up and then participate in races against the horses of other users.

NFTs and play-to-earn are key components of Derby Stars, and enable numerous kinds of interactions between users that combine to create a unique, in-game economy. There’s multiple aspects to the game, with players required to manage their stable of horses by training them regularly, breeding them to create new horses, and then take part in live races that can be viewed in real-time, with big prizes on offer for the winners. Players can bet on the outcome of these races too, and they’ll need to cooperate with others to train and breed their horses more efficiently.

Derby Stars isn’t the only game in this new metaverse genre. Other titles include DeFi Horse and MetaRace. All three games share common themes, and opportunities exist for players to earn rewards for their efforts, such as entering and winning races, selling horses and hosting their own race tournaments.

A key advantage of horse racing in the metaverse is that it eliminates one of the biggest problems in the physical race horse world. The horse racing industry is notoriously corrupt, with doping and bribing jockeys to fail races having become commonplace in every country. Race fixing is the norm, and the industry also provides an easy way for criminals to launder money and avoid taxes. With metaverse horse racing, this kind of corruption is no longer possible, with the outcome of horse races determined by the skill of the horse alone.

In Derby Stars for example, the developers claim it’s actually possible for any horse to win the race if the trainer puts in the required effort and strategically applies their horse’s skills to the conditions of the race. Another popular metaverse horse racing game, DeRace, applies genetic algorithms and RNG technology to create unpredictability, leading to endless possibilities within each individual race, which are decided based on the player’s actions. It all adds up to an unforgettable and adrenaline-fueled experience that ensures bettors and trainers alike are enthralled in the action.

For those who care about animals, the metaverse also gives them a way to enjoy the races without any feelings of guilt. Fact is, horse racing is a brutally unforgiving sport, with many horses that suffer injuries being put down rather than being given the chance to recover. This is a serious concern, with data from the British Horseracing Authority Modern showing that modern steeplechase races have an average of just over 4 equine fatalities for every 1,000 horses taking part. The annual Grand National in the U.K. saw seven horse fatalities out of 439 horses that took part between 2000 and 2010. With virtual horses, the questions of animal cruelty are left aside, as there’s no way to “put down” an NFT.

Metaverse horse racing solves another problem too, as the blockchain technology that powers it enables bets to be settled immediately. When betting at the races or online, players may have to wait a long time to be able to deposit their funds and withdraw their winnings. There’s also a significant verification process involved that must be completed before one can start betting.

The real appeal of metaverse horse racing is not so much the rewards however, but more about the overall experience it provides. Horse racing enthusiasts are no longer restricted to betting alone – rather, they must embark on a journey with their racehorses to achieve success. It involves putting in both the time and the energy to create a special bond with their tokenized equine friends.

The way this is going, it’s only a matter of time until people from all over the world are breeding virtual horses, taking part in the races and reaping the rewards that only a combination of hard work, nurture and dedication can bring. NFT-based horse racing is out of the gates, but the finish line remains a long way off.

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